By Leah Gallant
Allison Polgar with a recent self-portrait in her studio space at the Birdsell Mansion.
How have you seen your work change since you started making art?
I started drawing when I was a little kid, and it was this almost obsessive thing. I would fill notebook after notebook with mostly stupid stuff, like horses and mermaids and people. It was something I did constantly— I always had sketchbooks with me. Then I started taking art classes in middle school, mostly life drawing and painting and portraiture, and then went to school for art. In terms of how it’s changed, I now try to fit ideas or concepts into work that is typically just representational. In school, I started taking printmaking classes, so the idea of making duplicates has informed how I approach making work. In painting, you get a very direct result immediately, but in printmaking you have to go through this process, there isn’t as much wiggle room, once you start on a path you have to complete it. You don’t actually see what it looks like until you pull the paper off the press. It’s been interesting going back and forth between those two processes, because one is so process-driven and technical, while the other allows for more gesture and immediate gratification.
Has starting to work in printmaking changed how you paint? Or are they two separate processes?
They are separate, but I do see overlap, because while I really enjoy etching and intaglio processes, I also really like monotype. It’s very painterly but it’s also thinner or shallower –you can’t build up ink on a piece of plastic that you’re going to print—so it’s almost like a faster way to paint. I use cards and razor blades to make marks in the monotype process, and that’s something that I’ve started to carry into painting in the past few years.
Allison Polgar, N.O. (back door)
Is there a particular painting you’ve used printmaking methods on?
My last series, the North Olmsted series, which I showed at the Birdsell’s winter opening, depicted these buildings around my hometown that I would only drive past because it was not a pedestrian-friendly area. They’re very commercial and ugly and I would try to ignore them. Last summer and fall, my environment was really getting me down, and I started looking around and decided I need to confront this and not let it control me. So I started walking around and taking photographs of different buildings and spaces and then painting them, and I applied some of those processes that I’ve used in printmaking to get sharper edges.
The North Olmsted series, as well as current work you’re doing for the Commerce Center, draw on subjects that relate to your own life and experiences. Is that a constant in your work?
I think it is. It took me a while to realize that’s what I was doing, but I definitely do draw from whatever is happening to me or whatever psychological stuff I’m trying to deal with. It does get channeled into what I want to make, which is sometimes not what I don’t want to make but what I don’t really enjoy making. For example, I did a couple of paintings a while ago of rural landscapes, highways, and overpasses. I was in a long distance relationship and I was driving across Ohio all the time, and that’s what I was seeing, so that’s the imagery I started working with— even though I hate landscapes, I don’t like painting them. In a way, at least with the current series, I’m getting more insular. The North Olmsted series depicted the environment that I grew up in, but the self portraits I’m doing for the Commerce Center is much more me. It’s becoming more and more focused on the self.
What are you taking from a long history of portraiture in Western painting and what are you bringing that’s new?
At this point I don’t know how much new I can bring to self portraiture, given the fact that so many artists have done it. The genre seems kind of indicative of just trying to figure yourself out. I feel like when I do a self portrait, especially when it’s from life, it’s this time where everything else goes away and it’s just me looking at myself in a mirror. When I paint then I actually am able to create a lot of distance from myself, which is weird because I’m so focused on my visual image.
Your current body of work for the Commerce Center is about your Catholic upbringing. Can you talk more about your plans for the space?
In my space, ‘the dungeons,’ there are six cylinders along one wall. My plan is to fill each of the cylinders with a bunch of things: paintings, self portraits of me dressed up as different saints, and castings of a garden statue-sized Virgin Mary. I was home schooled and raised Catholic, so what I’m thinking about with those is this very specific childhood memory of celebrating All Saints Day. I would get to choose a saint, dress up as them, and then go and hang out with a bunch of other Catholic home school kids, and we’d all be saints for the day. I don’t really go to church anymore, so I’m trying to deal with how this was such a huge part of my upbringing. I’m interested in the performative ridiculousness of having kids dress up as saints. I remember always having fun at the All Saints Day celebrations, so I’m trying to keep a childlike quality to the installation. As for the castings, I’m also thinking about these icons as commercial objects—even though they represent these divine saints or ideas, you have to cough up money for them, and then put the statues under your front window. I’m also interested in how making multiples of the same thing puts more distance between the original object and the artist.
Ok, I like asking this question: what is the worst art object you’ve ever made?
How to choose? There are a lot! I did this one woodblock print in my first printmaking class—it was a self-portrait, and the theme was dreams and nightmares. I had this really vivid dream that involved a tiger, so half of the print was a generalized version of my face and the other half was a tiger.
Photo credit: Leah Gallant, Allison Polgar