Transcript: Interior Space with Polly Shindler

Listen on Apple Podcasts Here

Aired July 09, 2018


This is The First Stop: a podcast with the aim of exploring the minds of artists in and around New Haven.

Today we'll navigate the mind of New Haven-based artist Polly Shindler. The works discussed in this podcast can be found on our blog at and on Polly's website

Polly is a prolific painter who over the years has toggled between abstraction and realism. She has always been a collector of objects, images, textures, and ideas. In the past couple of years Polly has become fascinated by furniture, interior design, and imagined domestic spaces decorated with objects she finds both in the real world and on The Internet. The paintings deal with myriad subjects a few of which are the human yearning for privacy the push and pull between real and imaginary, as well as the complex history of painting.


David: Welcome to the show, Polly. 

Polly: Thank you. 

David: I first met you at Pratt Institute. We were both getting our MFA's. Can you describe what your work was like back then?

Polly: Yeah, I went into school with—well, I applied to school with the idea that I was making sort of abstract, but architectural work. So a lot of buildings, a lot of big structures, a lot of windows. And at that point, it was really just about these big objects. And they just ended up being buildings because I didn't know what really—what else to call them.

David: But they were—They were semi abstract. Right?  

Polly: Yeah, that's what I got into school with, and then once I was in school, they became a lot more abstract.

David: Yeah.

Polly: I was concentrating a lot more on line and gesture and a lot of drawing into paint.

David: That's what I remember.

Polly: Right. Yeah. Yeah a lot of black, a lot of like colorful backgrounds.

David: Mm-hmm.

Polly: Black on top, and then scraping into the black paint to get to the bottom layer.

David: One of the cool things about getting older as an artist is to sort of look back at your whole process and the work that you were doing in the past, and sort of wonder how you got to the place that you are now, you know what I'm saying? 

Polly: Yes, I do.

David: And when I look at your work--when I think about what you're doing--because I actually remember that work from Pratt, and I've you know, followed you on Instagram and seen what you’ve been up to for years now--

Polly: Right. 

David: And you've moved from abstraction. You've gone through and dealt with abstract sort of symbol slash corporate logo looking artwork—

Polly: Yeah.

David: —that's kind of intentionally naive or something like that, and now you're doing these interiors. And I'm really interested in, you know, how did you get from point A to point B. Can you trace your thought process or evolution and kind of come up with a reason why you're here?

Polly: That's a very good question and something—I definitely don't think I give it enough thought because I'm—I just say, "well it's an evolution blah blah blah," but I am—I took some drawing classes here and there—you know undergrad, but I never went to school for painting. I have literally never taken a painting class before, so—and I have I have a History [degree] undergrad like I just I don't have—

David: Oh, wow! 

Polly: Yeah, I don't have a fine arts background even though I've been making work since forever, but up to school, and then even once I was in school where, obviously—I had some sort of a—I was afraid of being found out, you know? I'd be a fraud because I didn't have the background, but once I got into school, I felt confident to be making all sorts of different things. I felt a little—felt able to branch out a little bit, and I really got into the materiality. I mean, you know how exciting Mood [Fabrics] can be, so I'd go there and get fabrics and you know, I started working overtime with gold leaf and just going nuts with it. All I really cared about was the material. And it's hard in New York to really--well for me in a studio with four, sometimes five other artists to me--beyond not having a lot of space. It's hard to keep your own voice. There's just a lot of influence. There's a lot of sharing of materials, a lot of sharing of ideas, a lot of input, which you know, you ask for—sometimes you don't ask for it.

David: Yeah. 

Polly: A lot of people coming in and out of your studio. It's really hard to make work in a vacuum, if that's what you want to do, so that was a time of making art as a community. You try to keep your practice your practice, but it can it can be tricky especially if you're curating together, or you are working collaboratively.

David: Mm-hm.

Polly: So when I left New York, it was somewhat or very—It was a—It wasn't something that was planned. So when I got home, I kind of was able to shut all the background noise off, and I had no input. I was really just looking at—I think it might have been an information collecting situation. Just a time of, "what do I want to do?" 

David: Right.

Polly: And no one's looking, so why don't I just see what I want to do, and I began to paint objects. 

David: Yeah.

Polly: Which, I didn't really do. I didn't really know how to do it. And so when I got home, and even when I was in New York a little bit, I was starting to make these patterns. And they started off as nothing. Just little squiggles or something like that, and then they became planets. And then they became flowers. And then they became sailboats. It was just about experimenting with a form. And then one day I decided to put all of the forms into one space together. And I was also making teacups. And there's one painting, and it's gone now. Some guy bought it, which I couldn't believe because it was such a, like a strange intersection of where I am now. And I don't necessarily think it was a very good painting, but it was a table, and a chair, and a teacup; and I think that there might be some sort of a curtain, and that was really where the next thing took off—where I am now. Because it was really—It was like putting all the pieces together—

David: Mm-hmm

Polly: —In this piece that wasn't necessarily very interesting, but I was also, in that piece, working on textures. The table does have sort of—I was really into working flat. I mean everything had a dimension, but it was all very flat and really—and yeah, so this was me going into a period of investigating how to create something lifelike because I never ever was invested in doing that at all. It was never my M.O. So when I started to look around at the textures of things—and that's when it got sort of interesting, and [became] something I wanted to explore. Also, like I said, leaving New York, which is a zoo. I'm in Connecticut. I'm staying at my parent’s house. It is quiet. You can hear a pin drop. If I didn't want to, I didn't have to see a soul all day long. And making work in that environment, you really look around. You have time to just look around you and look at how you know, the room is set up, the way things look in the light, the way things look; the way we set up a room, the way we, you know, choose to hang up art that we like—all the decisions that go into creating a room, a house, a space. And I'm not a decorator—like I wouldn't know what to do if someone said, "You can you have carte blanche to decorate or design this space." I really don't know what I would do, but when it comes to painting, it's different because most of the rooms—and a lot of people have told me this—my rooms don't make any sense. I mean nothing's quite—I mean the room doesn't exist in the world. There's no—

David: Right.

Polly: It's not based in any sort of reality.

David: Did you read that article [Painting as Total Environment] that Jason Stopa wrote about painting as total environment, and he's talking about Trudy Benson and virtual reality—

Polly: No.

David: --In painting. It was—He kind of he writes this article that sort of defines this group of painters like Laura Owens and Kelty Ferris and Rachel Rosen and Trudy Benson as directly conversing with, you know, virtual reality. And I actually am teaching a VR class and I was reading about your process with your work and how, In a way, you're sort of creating a virtual space in a painting, and you're gathering things that exist in the analog world and—obviously you're painting, so that's analog too, but you're placing them into an environment that doesn't exist, and you're sort of mining things, and collecting things and collecting textures and kind of turning them into a new place. And it reminded me a lot of, you know—for video games and virtual reality, you sort of find textures—like there [are] grass textures and brick wall textures. And they are just photographs of textures that, you know, get placed online, and then people gather them and use them as textures for like a made-up building or a made-up wall or a made-up terrain. 

Polly: It's like when you used to make the house for The Sims.

David: Yeah!

Polly: When you're like "what brick do you want to use?" 

David: Yeah, exactly.

Polly: What siding do you want to use for the house?

David: Yeah, so it's like all these things that exist and then putting them together to create something that doesn't exist, but still referencing stuff in the real world. And so I just started—I thought about VR because I'm kind of steeped in that myself.

Polly: Sure.

David: Is that something that you've thought about at all with your work?

Polly: It really—the only time I ever think about my work in in any sort of a concrete way is when people ask me—

David: Yeah.

Polly—if it's real. "Is this a real place?" and I think "no." You know, I start with a piece of furniture that I think is interesting or—lately, it's been—and it's—it's interesting that I look at the inside-outside situation, where if something interesting is happening outside or the color coming through the window—there's just a nice—and sometimes it looks like it's a painting on the wall versus a window, and I like the ambiguity, but it's funny because when I first was painting those buildings, I was always interested in the windows. So I think that might just be a a sort of theme that I've—

David: Interesting.

Polly: —that's sort of been running.

David: Yeah.

Polly: —inside/outside, light/dark. I don't know. So I was thinking about that a bit because I came across—I was doing a talk for a panel at Central, and I was looking—and I found all of these old paintings of mine, and the one thing that runs through everything is these rectangles of different colors against the same background and it was—they're all windows.

David: Interesting. Yeah. Yeah. I read some of your past interviews and you were talking about how you value privacy and sort of like—almost like burrowing into your private space. 

Polly: Which is funny because I like looking in other people's windows.

David: Yeah, the voyeuristic quality of—yeah. Can you explain like what that is about or where that comes from for you? Like why do you why do you think that's Important to you?

Polly: Privacy?

David: Privacy. Yeah.

Polly: It's not that—I'm not even necessarily a private person. It's something to do with security. 

David: Mm-hmm. 

Polly: And when I—you know me, I'm very— 

David: You're an outgoing person.

Polly: Yeah, but I think I'm honest.

David: You're honest, too.

Polly: Somewhat—I can be blunt sometimes, but when it comes to your private life, I love the idea of doing whatever you want behind closed doors. 

David: Yeah. 

Polly: I just find that very exciting for some reason, and it's nothing devious or anything like risqué, but—and maybe it just goes back from being a kid where nothing was just yours. But as an adult you can do whatever the heck you want, but you still feel like we're under a thumb

David: Yeah. 

Polly: So for leaving New York and coming here, it feels very it's… 

David: Like you don't have roommates.

Polly: Right. 

David: You have to have a roommate in New York. You can kind of just do whatever the hell you want in your private space. 

Polly: And now I can luxuriate in space, and also, I'm spending more time outside than I ever did before. And even then, in New York, you can't find a private outside space. You're never like farther than 10 feet from anybody ever.

David: Mm-hm.

Polly: And here I can take my dog and we can go to a field, and there won't be anyone else there.

David: I'm basically just talking about stuff. I'm getting from your work and I'm not trying to tell you your work is you know—this is what your work is about, but— 

Polly: Your work sucks. [laughter]  

David: No. I love your work. No, but I'm--so my wife [Ruthie Dibble] is writing a dissertation about the Civil War and how—it's way more complicated than this, but the gist of it is about how the war affects domestic spaces and kind of finds its way into private spaces, and you know, how women responded to the war, and how objects from the battlefront were brought into the house and how people made stuff and crafted things, you know, differently in response to the war, and then also how domestic things make their way out into the war, and how soldiers kind of try to bring their home life to the battlefront, which is a common thing with, you know, people—soldiers and stuff.

I don't think your work is about war or the Civil War at all, but it—because I'm steeped in that, I immediately think about privacy and interior space and then start to think about like the opposite: exterior space.  And I started thinking about the sort of myth of like the American West, and this idea of privacy and like being by yourself—and that kind of American quality of being by yourself, you know?

Polly: Yeah. 

David: And I thought it was interesting because it made—It started making me think about—because your work, is very in some respects, like, there are certain paintings that look totally, you know, made up like—or like invented spaces and especially that one that's you know—there's the Morris Lewis painting on the wall, and then there's like a James Terrell looking window in the middle of it. But then you have the law and order painting from 2017, which—It looks very much like—

Polly: Autobiographical. 

David: Autobiographical, yeah. And something that I relate to, having binged on Law and Order before. 

Polly: Right

David: And it doesn't look like an invented space and neither does the Kitchen Sink in the Early Morning.

Polly: Yeah. 

David: --kitchen sink paintings those look to me, like, real. 

Polly: And those were earlier.

David: Yeah, and those are earlier. and your works changed since then, but they seem intensely personal, but they also seem very much kind of like a summation of what it's like to be a certain type of person living in America today. And so I automatically think of that idea of like how we kind of burrow away in our apartments and kind of try to have private experiences and be entertained, but I started thinking about the solitary mythos of Americans out on the frontier by themselves, and [started] thinking about America becoming increasingly urbanized, and then how we kind of are still trying to preserve this idea of privacy, but there's just more and more of us, and we can't avoid each other. 

Polly: Yeah, and so much of it is available online.

David: Yeah. 

Polly: I know what people's houses look like who—I've never been I've never been to their homes. There—have you ever read? –It's called "Art as Therapy." It's by Alain de Botton. 

David: Never read it. 

Polly: Okay. He's a—he wrote— It's not called Proofs for Dummies, but it's something like that. He's a contemporary philosopher and some people think he's—you know, he dumbs it down, but he has some interesting things to say about why we live the way we do, why we create the spaces that we do. We live in spaces that we create because we need the things. The spaces that we live in create the balance that we need. And he obviously goes on, but—and this is I think where I was when I was doing that earlier work. I was thinking a lot about what you need in a space—what the space says about you. But I think as time has gone on—and this wasn't even—this wasn't conscious. Somebody said it to me in a discussion: They said, “I don't see that in your work at all,” the personal. 

David: Really? 

Polly: What I see is paintings about painting. And I thought, "Wow, I didn't realize that that was coming through," and then I thought about it and I said, "Yes. I'm not that concerned about making little doll houses."

David: Right.

 Polly: I am creating spaces.

David: Yeah.

Polly: They are not about the person. They're a mock-up of a space. There's nothing realistic about them. It's about shape. It's about design.  

David: Mm-hmm. 

Polly: It's about color;

David: Mm-hmm. 

Polly: It's about textures and they're not abstracted from anything that I know, and they're also—They make sense. They're just informed by much more design than I even thought I was. I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't know that that was happening.

David: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, so that's well. Yeah it is—It's—can you explain just—can you further explain like—what does it mean to be making a painting about painting? 

Polly: Yes. Well, I didn't know what it was either, until I had a conversation with this guy. But he said, you know, they just seemed more formal. They—"you're making decisions based on what things look like. Not how they might exist in the real world." And that really—that struck a chord in me, and I said, "You're right. These aren't—this isn't my grandma's house anymore, you know?" or anything where, well, this is what it looked like, or this is what I felt like it looked like. It became, “this is what I want it to look like.” This is how it's balanced. This is how it needs to be to be aesthetically pleasing to me. Or how it means something to me. 

David: Mm-hmm. 

Polly: Not, this is what I imagined, you know?

David: Like, you're not trying to capture reality at all. You're trying to create something—In a way you're still engaged in abstraction on some level. 

Polly: Yes. 

David: Like not—it's not they're recognizable objects, but it's sort of an abstracted reality like it's—

Polly: Yeah. Basically, there are no people involved in these spaces. They're—like they are abstracted from other realities and sort of become an amalgam or something. So many disparate elements of my choosing, but I'm aware that I'm choosing them. It's not—I’m not creating a narrative.

David: Right. 

Polly: Or someone else's narrative. Which is what I think I had been doing those earlier— 

David: You create—there's definitely a narrative in like the Law and Order and the Sink one. It's like I picture somebody waking up and like—

Polly: That Kitchen is my parent’s kitchen. 

David: Yeah. You can tell, right? And one of the things that—I mean I think it was—those stood out to me because you've moved in this direction of no narrative, right?

Polly: Mhm-hmm.

David: And those to me—and one of the things that was really interesting to me about your current work—like your 2018 works, is the sort of lack of human presence in the works. 

Polly: They're more sterile. There's not— 

David: Yeah. 

Polly: There's not clutter. 

David: There's no clutter. Yeah.

Polly: More decisions are being made. You know, I'm know I have a problem, I guess. It's hard to know when you're done. It's hard to know if you want to really push something with detail both with paint and with ideas. It's hard to know when to stop. It's hard to know if something's finished, and these have become very easy for me to walk away from and say, "I just need this, and then I'm done," and then I am done. It's that simple. I'm like—this needs to be settled, and once it's settled, that's it. There are a lot of decisions being made, it seems like, beforehand. 

David: Right. You said in an earlier interview of like before this phase of painting interiors that you need a day in the studio. Like you can't kind of paint a couple hours and then go do something else. You have to devote like a day or two in the studio, and kind of—But you—and kind of just go at your own pace and by your own terms for the day. You also said that you painted like three paintings a day or something at that point. But now that you're working with like furniture and you're sort of trying to create a space, has that pace slowed down or changed at all? Has you're working process changed?

Polly: Yeah, I have lots more time now because rent's a lot cheaper here, and I dedicate—except for when it's 95 degrees out—I dedicate just about every day to going to the studio, if possible.

David: That's Great. 

Polly: And that means that I go like it's my office. I'm there by a certain time. I can stay as long as I want, but I'm never there for less than a few hours, and that's how it's always been for me. If I can't really immerse myself in whatever I'm doing, There's no point in me going.

David: Mm-hmm. 

Polly: When I used to have to travel 45 minutes each way, if I couldn't spend at least five hours there, once I was there it wasn't worth it for me to go. Um, so it became a matter of practicality. But then it became a real part of my studio practice, where if I'm into something, I'm in the flow. You can't get me out of there. So if have to go to work afterwards—I don't have work. You know, I have to—I can't, you know—I've got to stay. I don't—I quit. I quit my job. Because yeah, my paintings now do take a little bit longer. I work a lot smaller. I use a lot less paint

David: Mhm-hmm.

Polly: But I am still prolific. I might not be making three paintings a day, but I might make

two a week. 

David: Mm-hmm. That's a lot. Yeah.

Polly: Still a lot. My ideas come very quickly, so I have to write things down and take pictures of, you know, things I want to do. 

David: Could you take us through a process? Like you see something, then what happens? You know what I mean? Like, where—how do you get—how does an idea come to fruition or fully develop for you?

Polly: Yikes. Like I said before, it usually starts with a piece of furniture. Now, sometimes it starts with—It's really the setup and the design of the room. Is this a living room? Is this a dining room? Because depending on what kind of room it is, is where I—where my interests are at the time. Am I interested in making something modern—something mid-century? Am I interested in making something with antiques? With huge textured, patterned curtains and wallpaper? It's really about where my juices are flowing at that moment.

David: Yeah. 

Polly: And I can't—I can't really predict where those are going to go. Most the time, it's because I'm on Pinterest and I see an awesome credenza.

David: So most of your research is online. Like it's not like you're going to antique stores or—

Polly: Sometimes I see something in the world—like, if I'm at my friend's house. I go "Oh, this is hand-me-down furniture from Grandma" or whatever, or I'll say, "Oh my gosh. Oh, you need to take a picture of the quilt on someone's bed." I need to get a picture of that. So those are—I have like a—like a mental or—and of course digital file of things that I will eventually use.

David: Right. 

Polly: You know? 

David: Right. A database almost.

Polly: Yeah, of ideas where if I say, "Oh my gosh! I know what--I know what this needs,” and I scroll through my phone and say I need that rug from that thing that I saw once, and if I can't find it, I have to Google. What was that? Where did that rug come from—that Danish rug? You know, it's very piecemeal. It really is.

David: So you're you are almost like just aggregating images and re-purposing them.

Polly: Yeah. 

David: And you just go to your database of found images from wherever and kind of pieced them together and draw connections between them and place them into a space. Is it—do you find that it's an intuitive process? Like you're not thinking like, "Oh this means this, so I have to put this here." It's more like "Ooh, I like that and that's got to go here." 

Polly: Yes. The latter. 

David: Yeah. That's cool. 

Polly: For sure. There's no there's—It's not "Oh this wouldn't exist at the same time as this" or— 

David:  Yeah. Yeah. No

Polly: It's very patchwork.

David: I've noticed also that your walls are—you don't draw corners that much.

Polly: Sometimes. 

David: Sometimes you do. Okay. 

Polly: Sometimes I do, if I need there to be some depth, but then sometimes I paint the corner and I say, "This does not need a corner." And then I take it out. But some of them certainly do, and I you know, sometimes I'll—well, that's not I guess that's not a corner. But um, I like to include the ceiling sometimes. I don't know if that's what you're—

David: This, this like pink room that you did that I found on your website I—first of all I love the marble table. I think the like way that you handled that is really fun because it's sort of--it's very painterly and abstract, yet really captures marble at the same time. But I noticed there is actually—there's a corner in terms of like the—The floor demonstrates that there's a corner, and there's a table oriented like it's against another wall. But then the background is just like a flat pink, right, so you're sort of playing with like flatness and the illusion of three-dimensional space at the same time almost. 

Polly: Yeah. Yeah. It's like sometimes I feel like, oh that doesn't make sense, and other times I think, "I don't care. It's not that's not important to me." That's not where my—I look at it now, and I see what you're seeing, and I don't think I even noticed it before.

David: Yeah. 

Polly: But that little stool is askew, which would indicate that there is a corner and that's what you see but there's no line. There's no—There's no delineation. 

David: But I think that's part of what is fun about looking at your works is that the—I mean the perspectives are all a little askew, right?

Polly: For sure. I pay very little attention.

David: Yeah. And I think, looping back to why I started even thinking about like America and like the frontier is because there's also a sort of folk art look to them. Like there's a folk art meets like Matisse, meets, you know, I don't know what, but there there's definitely kind of a folksy quality in it. I think partly maybe because you're painting furniture and stuff or antiques, and I don't know there's—It ties in— 

Polly:  Painting untrained. [laughter].

David: I mean, I mean you paint very well. I mean, it's very it's very interesting and—

Polly: But it's completely yeah, I mean I—This is another thing I learned from the year that I was studying art education that I abandoned when I came back to Connecticut. Because I don't have—I didn't have a style when I started painting more representationally. I painted what I saw. That's what I learned when you're teaching children.

David: Mmm. 

Polly: You know, there's what you think, and that's how you draw a lady's face. She's got—she's pretty, and she's got lips, and this is where her eyes are, and they're big and they're blue. But are they really where you think they are on her head? Are they really— 

David: Right. Yeah.

Polly: So, I actually learned how to paint that marble by necessity because I was doing a project for this company, and I said "I don't know--I don't know how to paint marble." You know, I'm not—I don't do folk anything. And I had to sit there. Like this needs to be marble because it was commercial. Like this needs to be marble. I just sat down and figured it out. Because that's what you have to do. It's like all those things that you to learn how to do on the fly for a computer, you know, drag that file here and you need to put this dadada? I don't know how to do that. Well, google it. I figured it out. It's like with anything

David: Yeah. 

Polly: So anything that I saw that I wanted to do, you have to figure it out. You can't just say, "I don't know how to do that.” 

David: Totally. Yeah, I think that's one of the most fun things in a way about being an artist, and I mean I think these days with all the YouTube videos, everybody's learning new things on the fly. Yeah but one of the cool things I thought when I first started really engaging in art was, "Oh if you have an idea, you have to learn how to execute that idea." And you ended up learning things you never thought you'd have to learn. 

Polly: It's true. And you have to learn by doing it. You know, sometimes you do it the first time, and you're like, "That was easy," and the next time something comes up like that and you like, "well, I'll just make it again." And then it's hard. You have to keep doing it and sometimes even kind of poorly executed is good enough and that's where you're happy. That's what happens to me sometimes where it's like, well it halfway looks like I want it to look, and that's actually the aesthetic that I'm going to stick with. And it's—I mean I guess it's kind of hard to describe, but I guess that's as close as I can get to why it might look kind of folksy, because I'm not looking for a pure representation of something. 

David: Right

Polly: I'm looking for my ideal, which is different from everybody else's. 

David: I mean in a way that's what folk art is. It's like someone just being like, "This is my visual language, and I'm just painting by myself, and I'm going to just make pictures, and they make sense to me—

Polly: Mm-hmm.

David: And they make enough sense to the viewer that they can piece together what things are, but there's something fun about seeing things slightly off scale.

Polly: Yeah. Yeah. 

David: And seeing the kind of going back and forth between flat and three-dimensional and—

Polly: Right, and some of them are self-aware because I make you know, some things are put into context like oh this person likes Morris Lewis and this person likes impressionistic paintings.

David: This imaginary person?

Polly: Yeah. 

David: Who's living in the space that you're painting?  Polly: Yeah.  David: Yeah.  Polly: Yeah, or maybe it's just me.

David: That no, but I mean that's really fascinating actually. That's—so you in a way you're kind of creating avatars for these spaces, like you are transforming yourself into a person who would live in this particular space and kind of coming up with ideas about what their tastes might be like.

Polly: See that's going—I think that that's sort of where I was in the mid-point of doing these. 

David: Yeah.

Polly: And, I don't know, I think I do oscillate back and forth between creating a room that is uncanny in a way that maybe somebody—like enough idiosyncratic information that maybe it was somebody who lived there, and then other situations and other paintings where it's completely design oriented. Some of them are just so clean. No one could ever—they're just stark and flat. Like I don't know what you have there. 

David: Um, I—so—wait. I started this one. This— 

Polly: Like that. Nobody lives there. 

David:  Yeah. 

Polly: Like that. That's not a thing. That's a rectangle for a couch—for a you know, it's sofa. 

David: Well, it almost looks like a museum or a gallery space except for the—well, except for the chair or sofa. It's very much like something that would be in an apartment. 

Polly: Right. 

David: Or house.

Polly: It's just—It doesn't look comfortable. It doesn't look like somebody would have put that, I don't know.  

David: Oh the chair?

Polly: The whole setup just feels very cold.

David: It's cold.

Polly: Yeah. 

David: What do you think that's about for you, the coldness of it?

Polly: I Think again, that's just a design practice. 

David: Yeah. 

Polly: Sometimes I just want something to look—

David: Clean. 

Polly: Sleek and clean. 

David: Yeah. 

Polly: Yeah, which is like the opposite of hell. I am—not that I'm not clean. [laughter]

David: Did you make these works since you moved in to your studio space? 

Polly: Mm-hmm.

David: Do you think that that's changed the work? Because you were working at home, right, for a while? And, so you're seeing all this—

Polly: Yeah the stuff I did at home, I believe was a lot more, you know, autobiographical. Something that felt true-to-life, piece of—piece of America, you know? Piece of—Like the laundry, the laundromat. 

David: Yeah

Polly: And then I guess when I moved to the studio, It was a clean slate. Maybe I wanted to make work that was also—I remember Michael Brennan used to say, you know, "I don't want to move my studio," and he's like, "every time you move your studio your work changes."

David: Yeah. 

Polly: You should look at that as an interesting thing. Not as a negative. So, every time I move a studio, I think “oh, I wonder what's going to happen with my work,” because when I moved into the studio, it was a—I mean, you know what it's like at Erector Square. It's a white box.

David: Yeah. 

Polly: And it's just rife with like possibilities.  David: Yeah. 

Polly: So, starting from a white box. I wanted to make paintings that felt a lot more clean. And so that's I think where I began, but then things get messy again, and I'm making—

David: Oh my Studio's a mess. When you move into a new studio, it's like all the baggage is gone.

Polly: Yeah.

David: But then you create new baggage eventually.

Polly: Oh, yeah, that's why I do something with my studio that I—never did—I don't think I've ever done it with any of my studios, and that's I clean—It's probably a result of that being my main space. I mean I spent a lot of time there and, because it's a place that I have to at least pretend to be professional some of the time, every time I leave that space, I clean it. 

David: Wow, you're—that's great!

Polly: I mean, it's just it's a practice that I—It's like I can't get out without making sure that there's no can, like diet coke cans. Making sure there's no foodstuffs. I mean, I have a refrigerator, and I have the necessities but I make sure that there's nothing on the floor.

David: Mm-hmm. 

Polly: Everything's put away. This does not include my working space. 

David: Right. 

Polly: My paints are still out.

David: Yeah. 

Polly: And all that, but it, but the peripheral stuff—like so that I can come back in and just get to work and not be like, "Oh my gosh. What did I do?" I have to step over things. Because that's how my studio was at Pratt. It was just, Oh, where was I? What was I doing? This place is like there's glitter on the floor. There's gold leaf everywhere. I have no idea how to start, how to pick up from where I started. 

David: And that, and that affects the work that use you make-- Like all the work that you make in that environment—and sometimes in a good way—is affected by your past work. But when you want to leave that work behind and it's still there or there's evidence of it's still there, It's hard to kind of leave it behind. 

Polly: Right.

David: In this particular—It's called Living Room at Sunset. We've been discussing it for a while. What's the relevance of the window front center? I mean you already talked a little bit about how you're fascinated with windows. And maybe this is just a redundant question, but there seems to be it's—What are you looking at? 

Polly: I think that the inside-outside thing which we talked about before, but that outside there's such an opportunity for strange colors that you might not find inside. 

David: Mm-hmm.

Polly: Gradations of color that don't exist anywhere but nature, just creates some—when you look at it in this context a very strange situation that there's a hole in my house, and I can see outside, and that picture because it's a picture from inside creates a very interesting image on my wall. 

David: Hang on a second the thing I'm perceiving as a window you're saying is—

Polly: I mean it is a window, but what I'm saying is—

David: You're painting a picture though. It's a frame.

Polly: Yes, and that whatever window you're looking at if this wasn't an actual portal to outside. Yeah, it could just be a  rectangle on your wall.

David: Right.

Polly: So, it's just another opportunity for a different image in a room. 

David: Gotcha. So you're seeing a window is I mean, it's a window to the outdoors But it's also—it's framed in the same way that a painting is framed. It's a thing that we can kind of look through like a painting. 

Polly: There's a painting that I did. It's called Pink Couch on the Ocean and I don't know if you have it.

David: I don't have it there. We could go to your website and look at it. Oh, yeah

Polly: When I posted that Emily Auchincloss said "that's a really cool painting behind the couch." I said "what?" and I said, "wow that's amazing that that's what you're seeing." And I said, "well, that's when we look at it.

David: Well, so I think what's interesting is like—I mean and going back to paintings about painting, right? That statement that you took from it is like when you're making a painting, even if you're painting a window, you're still making a painting in the window. And so there's kind of a funny play between like you're actually painting paintings of paintings on the wall

Polly: Yeah. 

David: And then you've got stuff that looks like a window and that we sort of immediately view as a window, but it's still a painting. Like it's just like— 

Polly: It's paint.

David: It's paint. Yeah.  it is not an image.

Polly: And that's why when that guy said to me like “these are paintings about painting," I was like "No." Yeah, I mean in a way that I've never thought about representational painting: that it's paint on canvas about something else.

David: Right.

Polly: I found that somewhat mind-blowing. I think that he put a word to something that I didn't know how to, I don't know--how to express that.

David: It's interesting because you always have seen like someone who loves paint. You love the material. You love to play with the material whether or not it's a picture of a room or it's just a weird shape that you're preoccupied with like those arches you were yeah drawing in the past, and you just loved playing with the material. And I think that that still comes through even with these rooms right? You're still playing with material. You have stuff that looks abstract.

Polly: Mm-hmm.

David: And then you have this fascination with pattern and painting textile, and I read in a past interview that you also were an amateur quilter. Is that the case? Or that you did quilt at some point? 

Polly: I did quilt at one point. I just was really a really rough quilter. I was no good at it, but I loved going to the store.

David: Right.

Polly: I loved going to the store and picking out patterns. And if I had never done anything with them, I probably was just as happy.

David: Yeah.

Polly: it's just about finding these combinations that's so enticing.

David: And quilting in a way is like the original collage, right? It's collage before collage. You know? 

Polly: absolutely I mean same thing about, you know going to an art store--going to any store. I can go to a knitting store. I don't knit. And be like, "oh my god," I want this and this color and this color, and I want these go together, and I'll take a picture of them together and then put it into a painting, because I, you know, I have no interest in that material, but it informs something else. So, I'm always looking into stores. I don't even care what they're selling. It's just about finding these situations that you don't see or that you haven't seen before.  

You know, if I see a row of cars that are, you know, parked next to each other. I say, “Hmm. That's weird I thought those were all gray but they're all different gray.” So, I'll take a picture of it and say "well." I've just been thinking a lot more about color. The other day I went to Home Depot, and I wanted to find a book of color swatches, and they said, "oh we don't have that, but feel free to take as many as you want from the wall." So, I went to the wall.

David: Nice.

Polly: Because what I've been thinking about lately is those color aid papers. Did you ever use those in school?

David: What are color—No, I didn't.

Polly: they're like hand dyed—like silk-screened, and they come in different amounts I think like 280 or—I forget. And they're not cheap because they are hand done.

David: Mm-hmm.

Polly: A lot of times for when I was working at Hull's Art Supply, they were on a lot of lists for like foundation classes. So, I never had them myself because I didn't go to school for that, but they were very, like—You could get lost looking at all these colors. 

David: That's Cool.

Polly: Yeah, so I never had one of those but I was looking for something like it something a little—because they're all individual papers. So, I was looking for something that I could sort of just have on hand to look in paintings to say, you know, "I want that to be blue. But I don't know what color blue..." So that you can go into it without putting any paint on the canvas. You know to know exactly what shade of blue before you even mix it. 

David: Got it. So you—You'd use the that paper as a model and mix the paint to that particular color.  Polly: Exactly. David: That's cool. 

Polly: Yeah Um. Where was I going with that? Yeah, so I went to this store and was able to take as many as I wanted and I created my own book because they don't sell them.  And that has made such a huge difference for me because when you're working, a lot of times I upload a painting that I'm working on to the computer, and then I tweak the colors there to see if this would be better as a purple? This would be better as red? And that's all aesthetics.

David: Yeah.

Polly: You know, that's all just design, and you know, should I move this over here? And it's just so interesting that that has become a really big part of my—of making a painting for me. Photoshopping it either in my head or photoshopping it in an analogue way of like holding up a color, blocking it out.

David: Right.

Polly: You know? But I can easily just like, you know, take it away. "I was wrong. No, that's not going to work."

David: That's cool! That's a cool process.

Polly: You save a lot of paint.

David: Yeah! Wow, that's really interesting. 

Polly: Yeah, this one for sure was something that—what color wall should that be? 

David: The Laundromat? Or?

Polly: No. This one right here. 

David: Oh the one in the—The big green painting. 

Polly: Yeah. The credenza. Yeah, we can't see it here, but—

David: I'll put that on the website.

Polly: Yeah, so it's a balancing thing. Can this room support this color?  We'll see. It's a puzzle. Each one of them is just a puzzle.

David: This credenza one. It's so funny because the chair is three-dimensional, but the legs are all hitting the edge between the wall and the floor.

Polly: Yeah. 

David: Everything is against the wall and almost looks like it was painted into the wall.

Polly: Right, right. 

David: You know? 

Polly: Because the legs have some green on them.

David: Yeah.

Polly: You can just see what I care about and what I don't care about. And it's not that I don't care about—I mean that was wrong to say. I do care. But this information is less important for me. 

David: The…?

Polly: The legs being dominant is less important for me then say this sharp line. The, you know—

David: So the horizon line becomes really important.

Polly: Yeah, like, that can't vary really. 

David: Lastly. Let's just talk about some of the artists that you're looking at now. I mean you talked a lot about how—you spent—you've spent a lot of time in, New York. You spent a lot of time going to shows. You spent a lot of time around other artists. And this has become your time to develop your own voice. While you're in New Haven, do you feel like there are artists that are influencing you from the past or present? Are there people you're looking at?

Polly: You mean just anywhere?

David: Anywhere. Yeah, any artists that like you're thinking about. 

Polly: Contemporary?

David: You don't have to—it doesn't have to be contemporary. It could be people from the past like—I mean, I see, I don't know, Matisse a lot—

Polly: Yeah. 

David: —In the patterned things.

Polly: Yeah. 

David: —which is awesome. I love Matisse. 

Polly: Thanks. Yeah, I love Matisse also. I look at—I mean look at the Impressionists, especially since I've been spending more time outside and wanting to, um, put that down. Some of my newer work has outdoor scenes. 

David: Through windows, or?

Polly: Hmm-hmm. Let me show you here. Um, for example, this. 

David: Ooh! That's awesome. What's that called? 

Polly: This one is called View from Balcony. Something like that, where you can see the outside, and, um...

David: I really like this—the sort of pointillist outdoor scene because then you're actually—you're really making paintings about painting. You know, you're referencing—I mean you're already—you have paintings literally of Morris Lewis, but it's cool. You have these windows that become paintings and are referencing painting from the past. And then you have that sofa that looks like a Matisse painting kind of. It's interesting.

Polly: Yeah, it is clear. I have a stack of impressionist painters in my—shouldn't be a surprise. My studio is just full of Monet, and Bonnard and Vuillard.  They're my favorites and that's who I look at primarily. But I also am interested in contemporary design. That's where the whole aesthetic comes from.

David: I think one of the things I like about this Black Floral Couch with Ceiling Fan is you've both got—you've got the outdoor pointillist scene, and then you're sort of referencing nature with the flowers on the sofa, so there's a kind of a—It's not just the painting being framed as something separate. It's kind of coming into the home in a clever way. Are there any other things…?

Polly: I mean, well you're asking about artists that I like.

David: Yeah, artists that you like.

Polly: I looked at a ton of [Edward] Hopper. He just has this—

David: Oh, yeah, I see that.  

Polly: He just has this sense that just blows me away.

David: Yeah. 

Polly: There's a silence. I mean I'm talking about the paintings that don't have people in them because people to me are distracting. I don't—I mean I love the paintings, but I love the homes.

David: You go to Yale University Art Gallery and they have a bunch of hoppers there, right?

Polly: I love someone—I love the gauziness of Florine Stettheimer. I love looking at her work. Her stuff is so detailed though in a way, and it's so specific to—I mean she has like—There's a theme going on in all of her paintings. They're almost like political.

David: Yeah.

Polly: But her style is like nobody else's. But I think I take something from everybody.

David: Sure. Yeah. I mean how can you not right? You're a sponge. Artists are sponges.

Polly: Yeah, like I'm—obviously my work doesn't have much in common with [Helen] Frankenthaler, but I look at her work, and it has to get in there somewhere.

David: Right, yeah. 

Polly: I mean she'll inform something someday.

David: What do you love about Frankenthaler?

Polly: Saturation. The, I mean just the like—It's so gentle, but it also feels—you can feel like the dyed nature of the fiber. I don't know. There's something just very delicious about that—the color that she uses.

David: I think we should wrap it up, but I want to ask: Do you have any upcoming shows that you want to plug or?

Polly: So, I have—what I'm excited about is: there's a gallery in Greenwich, and it's attached to the library. I've never been there, but it's the Flynn Gallery, and in September they're having their inaugural show, and it's going to be a big group show. I haven't seen the space yet, but it's my understanding that it's really, really big. And it's brand new, and I forget who the architect was. I think it's Pelle. And they want a lot of my work for that show. 

David: Awesome.

Polly: Well yeah, because it's a bright, beautiful, you know, brand new space. In September, so.

David: Congratulations!

Polly: Thank you. I have a couple of groups shows coming up in Brooklyn: one at Underdonk, and there's a gallery, Tillou Fine Art in Brooklyn, and it's Carrie Oldham and Michelle Tillou, that's T-I-L-L-O-U. And I guess they've moved to Brooklyn, and they're having a group show as well. So that'll be coming in October.

David: Awesome. So, you got a lot of stuff coming up. That's great. 

Polly: Yeah, it keeps me busy. It's nice. And that's the other thing about being in the studio. I enjoy being in my studio. I don't think even if I got to be very like—somebody who's very busy and very important, I still love doing the little things. Packaging my artwork is one of my favorite things.

David: Is it? That's great.

Polly: It's a busy task that just—

David: But it's one of those moments where you kind of decide "my artwork is important," like it needs to be packaged.

Polly: Or it's done.

David: It's gone. It's out of here.

Polly: It's done. I don't you know, I'm not going to have to look at this for a while. It's going out in the world. And I don't know, you know, it makes room for new stuff.

David: Thank you so much for coming on to The First Stop. 

Polly: Thank you very much. This is a really nice interview. Thanks for inviting me.  David: Yeah, it was a great conversation.


Special thanks to Bruce barber director of WNHU for providing the resources and guidance to make this possible.