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DGS alum, artist headed to Shanghai

DOWNERS GROVE – Artists seek inspiration in new experiences, and Elliot Purse should have it in spades when he returns from a summer destination that couldn't be more different than his Downers Grove roots.

The South High School graduate and current graduate student of painting at the New York Academy of Art was one of four students chosen for a fellowship in Shanghai this summer. He departs May 25.

"As an artist, you try to react to your surroundings," he said. "So I think it'll be a good shakeup for my work to be in an environment that's so different from what I'm used to."

Faculty at both his school in New York and at Shanghai University selected Purse after viewing his end-of-the year studio work.

His large paintings are portraits in a loose sense, conveying emotion and movement through a combination of representational and abstract lines. When he paints, he said he aims to use the lessons and styles from movements like abstract expressionism in an honest sense, avoiding quotations or a sense of pastiche.

The 23-year-old does not speak Chinese, but he said he is brushing up on Chinese etiquette and customs before his leaves.

"You want to represent the United States the best you can," he said.

He said the students who went last year essentially told him the marked differences between Shanghai and NYC are difficult to describe without personally experiencing them.

Purse gave a nod to South High School for encouraging his interest in art as a teenager. He then did his undergraduate studies at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.

He said his decision to go to graduate school in New York City was partially influenced by the same desire that's leading him to China – seeking new environments, different from what he already knows. And, of course, the New York art scene was a large draw.

"Finally being (in New York), it is exactly kind of what I always imagined," he said. "It was a different animal than Chicago. New York is in constant turmoil. It's stressful and taxing all of the time, but when it gets back to you in a really poetic sense, it's great."

While in China, he and other students will essentially be artists in residence.

"We'll have a studio and we'll have a place to live," he said. "All we're responsible for is meals. And we're there to … explore the city and get down to business in the studio.

"It's kind of a dream, basically."

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