A Celebration of the Slow Gaze: Interview with Polly Jones
Polly Jones grew up in Plainview, Texas surrounded by a vast sky and parents who encouraged her love for art. She earned a BFA in painting at Abilene Christian University, which sparked a love for still life painting that has occupied much of the past thirty years of her life. She is grateful to share this journey with her husband, also an artist, and their creative and lovely daughter. They have spent many years in Tennessee, though the last dozen has been back in Abilene where Kenny teaches art at ACU. A full-time artist, Polly spends time painting in her sunny studio at home. Her award-winning work has been in numerous shows. She is a signature artist at The Center for Contemporary Arts and also has work on display at River Oaks Gallery in Abilene Frame and Arts. Outside of Abilene, her work is shown at Anne Irwin Fine Art in Atlanta, as well as Etsy and Ugallery online.
My artistic process is to paint from life. It’s a celebration of the slow gaze, work that comes from a deep sense of gratitude and a longing to practice mindfulness. The still life setups are composed of what I find in my daily life—finding beauty, life, energy, and delight in ordinary everyday moments and objects. While painting, I incorporate paper that ranges from map fragments, ledger paper, hymns, poetry and to vintage Golden Encyclopedia pages for children. This is a way to include other voices and viewpoints into the image as well as a sense of nostalgia. Intense color, light, pattern, and texture are a focus that drives me on this creative journey. I often use polka dot grids as a way to refer to atoms, spirit, pixels, and all of the things that are hard to see that seem to pervade the physical world.
Interview by Sarah Mills
Your paintings have an extremely whimsical fun feel to them, how did you develop this style of painting?
I’m glad you respond to them in that manner because on a basic level I would love for the paintings to embody an attitude of positivity and gratefulness. There is satisfaction in domestic pleasures and I find that truly looking at small things is worthy of time and energy. This is a major impetus for my painting. Art making has been a journey of serious play and experimentation based on what I see. My painting style is the result of creating a problem and trying to find a resolution. It begins with a still life that I draw on a canvas. This initiates a process where I explore the relationship of colors and pattern by hanging them on the framework of the drawing. Most of my paintings involve constantly changing the colors within this framework. Additionally, I layer paint and collage materials in a process I find exhilarating. I have a visceral response to color that drives me to keep making art.
The most common comment I have received from people over the years is that my paintings make them happy. I like that. Who doesn’t need a little happiness injected into their day (especially these days)? Ultimately, I think the whimsy comes from my interest in paradoxes. I hope that the work invites a sense of joyfulness and struggle intermingled - that’s what I mean by “serious play”. When looking at my paintings I hope the viewer senses the joy and struggle of the journey to find visual solutions. I consciously connect the work with the genre Vanitas which celebrates life while always aware of the inevitability of change and death. I paint flowers that die quickly, goldfish which were my first experiences as a child with death, and fruit which rot - all that are hidden in an extravagant, palpable skin.
Can you tell us about the use of polka dots in your work?
Polka dots worked their way into the paintings as a way to refer to an order I felt was in the universe. It is how I include a sense of spirituality that is a vital part of my life. It also refers to other things not visible. It makes me think of atoms, pixels, pollen, dust, light photons and molecules. When I draw what I see I anchor myself in the “now”. I have a desire to paint what I see as an exercise in mindfulness but also know that it’s never that simple. The visual is always complicated by memories and thoughts.
The moments of collage in your work are fantastic. When did you start using collage in your work? How do you feel this element adds to your work?
Thank you! I have been using collage for about 15 years, though at first sporadically. I like the surprise you get when coming in close to the work. I like the complexity that comes from looking at a painting of a pear and finding a fragment of a map of New York City. It has become a way to include or at least allude to voices outside of my limited viewpoint. Often times a subtle narrative evolves from my seemingly random choices of text and images. Below is a lexicon for some of my most used collage materials.
Polka dots (see question 2)
Golden Book Encyclopedia (nostalgia for quantifiable knowledge and analog vs digital)
Maps (the world is bigger than my table)
Hymns (that gratitude thing)
Vintage Biology diagrams (fragility of life)
What are you currently working on?
I’m planning several large still-life paintings for a group show in the fall. I recently did a bigger one and found the scale a fun challenge. In a fit of ambition, I just finagled the transport of some huge canvases to our home. Feeling a little crazy now because I don’t have a big studio or a great place to store them or a dependable way to transport them. Also, I’m feeling a bit of stage fright… probably always a good thing. I never want to become complacent.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given over the course of your career?
Early on, a professor told me not to worry about trends in art but pursue my personal vision. A lot of nonverbal advice sticks with me through memories of other artists’ work. Some of their paintings haunt me as well as drive me to do better.
What is your favorite part of your creative process?
I love it when a painting takes a different direction from how I began and ends up as a total surprise. Even after all of my years of painting, I can’t predict what the combinations of the visual language will form when they come together. The challenge and fun of being open to the unpredictable is what keeps me painting.
How do you keep yourself motivated at times when you lack motivation?
My husband is a great supporter and encourager of my work. He is also an artist and we help keep each other going. We share a studio and just seeing him at work is energizing. Music helps too.
Also, I’ve developed the certainty that bad work is inevitable and I can’t let it keep me in a funk. The gift of a better painting is just around the corner if I work through it. The hope of better work is always pulling me forward.
And like most artists, deadlines keep me motivated. I do try to keep reasonable goals. Too many deadlines and I’m overwhelmed and less creative.