Staff Show 2024: Karlisima

Meet some of the talented artists on The Phillips Collection’s staff, whose works are in the 2023 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show (on view through February 16, 2024).

Karlisima with her work in the Staff Show

What is your role at The Phillips Collection? What is interesting about your job?

I have been a Museum Assistant for two years now. I love interacting with the public and guiding the visitors to make their visit pleasant and enjoyable. I love talking about art and the paintings in the collection. I speak five languages: Spanish, English, French, Italian and German. Spanish is my native language, and I am currently learning Hebrew, because it is my husband’s native language. As I speak all these languages, I get to speak some of them with the visitors and I enjoy pointing them in the right direction or suggesting the best way to start their tour. I hear different anecdotes about their travels and I learn something new each day. The Phillips Collection is a fascinating place and it has come full-circle for me, since I first visited it when I was in high school with my art class, and I saw Luncheon of the Boating Party for the first time, and I fell in love with this museum.

Who are your favorite artists in the Collection?

My favorite artists are Renoir, Monet, Cezanne, and Van Gogh. My favorite painting is Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party for the reason that I just described, by me seeing it when I was in high school. I also love Nature and trees. This is why I also love the paintings by Van Gogh, The Road Menders and Entrance to the Public Gardens in Arles. In both paintings the trees are magnificent and so full of life. The other painting that I absolutely adore is the painting by Monet, The Road To Vetheuil. The colors are so wonderful and the shadows and the light are so amazing. I feel that I am really standing in the middle of that road and I feel the sunshine on my face and I am mesmerized by the beauty of nature. I spent a summer in France in 1989 and I remember walking in roads like this one and enjoying the beauty of Nature in the country side of France. I feel very privileged that I visited Europe at age 19 and that this trip opened my mind and let me see new horizons.

Tree Painting by Karlisima

Copying a Mary Cassatt painting in the National Gallery of Art

What would you like people to know about your artwork on view in the 2024 Staff Show (or your work in general)?

On view in the Staff Show: The Tree of Life–I am One with Mother Nature–Mother Earth

This painting represents me and my Mayan Roots, and it also represents a young woman from El Salvador named Melissa I met in Long Island, New York. The tree is growing inside of her and she is the Tree of Life. The bright green color represents the lushness of Nature, green grass, fertility, prosperity, and growth. Her eyes are closed in a state of peace, beauty, and rest. This is the state in which I find myself when I am in the forest, walking among the beautiful trees and seeing the water in the creek.

This painting was inspired by Mother Nature. I take a lot of walks in Rock Creek Park and during these walks I commune with Nature. I call her Mother Nature and Mother Earth because She is nurturing and she is a mother to us all. In this painting I want to give a message of hope and protection for the environment. I want people to protect and take care of Mother Nature. I wish people to know that as we take care of the environment and the Planet, we are taking care of ourselves and our life. My message is that we are one with Mother Nature-Mother Earth, and we are one with the Land. If we realize our oneness with Mother Earth, we will cherish her and protect her. Whatever we do to harm her, we are doing to ourselves. We are literally self-destructing. We still have the opportunity to reverse the damage we have done to the Planet so far, but we must take an active role now and engage in more proactive activities, such as recycling, planting trees, and stopping plastic bottles from going into the oceans. It is a job for everyone to undertake. We must all do our part to save our beautiful planet and to keep seeing beautiful rivers, lakes, oceans, forests, flowers, meadows, trees, and animals. Our planet is gorgeous and I hope that my painting and my art in general will inspire people to take care and protect Mother Nature.

My love for Nature came from my childhood in El Salvador, as I spent my summers in a rural area full of rivers and luscious landscapes called “Sonsonate.” I have so many memories of the rivers, the beach and the volcanoes in El Salvador. They are truly beautiful and amazing.

Karlisima in El Salvador

Self-portrait in Red and Blue

Hope, from Three Heads series

About the artist:

Karlisima (b. 1970) (Karla Cecilia Rodas Cortez Israel), the daughter of Mayamerica Cortez and Eduardo Rodas, was born in San Salvador, El Salvador. At age 5, she visited the house of Master Jose Mejia Vides, and took formal art classes at age 7 with Master Armando Solis.

She came to Virginia in 1984 at age 14. In 1989, she studied French and art in France and was influenced by French Impressionism and the stained-glass windows of Notre Dame. She was also influenced by the mosaics and stained-glass windows of Chartres Cathedral in France and the churches and mosaics in St. Louis, and the churches in El Salvador. In 1992, she received a BFA in painting from Washington University in St. Louis.  She has been deeply inspired by Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Frida Kahlo.

Karlisima is a winner of many awards and she has exhibited her work locally, nationally and internationally. In 2005 and 2006 she took her paintings to London, England, and Berlin, Germany, for solo exhibitions.

Her bright and bold colors are typical of El Salvador and her Latin American and Mayan roots. She loves the Mayans and her cultural heritage. Her bold and thick brushstrokes are inspired by French Impressionism. Her paintings are reminiscent of stained-glass windows and mosaics. Her art depicts symbols of Mother Nature: Trees, flowers, landscapes, and the sun. She paints figures in a state of contemplation and meditation. Her themes are: Prayer, Meditation, Spirituality, the Worship of the Sacred, the notion that the Land is Sacred and that we are One with the Land. Her figures embody her deep spirituality and the idea that we are all one, and one with Mother Nature.

To see more of her art, visit and Instagram @Karlisima07. And to share your comments, email

Karlisima praying in her studio before painting

Walter Pierce Park, Adams Morgan, Washington, DC