Polly Norman at work her in studio
Hi Polly! I am so excited to learn more about you. Who are you? Where are you from?
I am a crazy artist from Minneapolis! Fortunate to have been raised in a family of artists, musicians and writers. Having that upbringing, I thought everyone did art and did it well. Also, I always picked art electives in school for an easy A. I thought all the students in the class took it for the same reason!
It wasn’t until adulthood I felt confirmed as and believed I had talent as a visual artist.
Your process is interdisciplinary. I am wondering how you first starting merging photography with painting.
My first attempts at painting photographs were in my portrait photography. I would offer hand-colored black and white portraits to clients and they loved them!
On and off throughout my life I have painted and taken pictures. Combining the two mediums was kind of a natural progression. And when I really delved into abstract painting in mid-life, I eventually added the abstract element to my colored photographs.
Your solo exhibition with Altered Esthetics opens soon. “Twists & Turns” offers the viewer a level of mystery, as your images are abstractions of actual objects. Tell me about the scenes behind the glass block. Do you set up or select the objects your glass block is distorting?
Originally I only took pictures of existing scenes, out in the community or at home where I set up glass block and used available light. Now I do them as studio set ups with professional lighting.
In the studio the objects I use are a mish-mash of found and bought objects. I have become a regular at places like Ax Man and Hobby Lobby. Feathers, doll parts, fabrics, acrylic and mylar sheets, decorative metal screens and simple wall sculpture, furnace filters, vellum, electric wire, numbers, letters, stamps, stickers, face masks are a few of the things I have put behind the glass and captured them warped with glass block.
The result of your work is very process-oriented. Steps are definitely involved. Are there any particular parts of your process or steps that excite you the most?
Seeing the objects warping behind the glass. Moving them around to make them even more striking and I love manipulating them in black and white and adding colors.
Do you have any advice for artists who want to experiment or merge mediums and are not sure as to where to start?
Keep your mind open and notice, notice. I accidently found the glass block in a Chicago athletic club while on vacation. In the pool area there was a large wall of Decora glass block backlit with fluorescent light. The most elegant shapes appeared in the glass.
I jumped out of the pool, went to our hotel room to grab my camera. Luckily there was a tunnel connecting the club to the hotel. I would’ve looked pretty silly running through downtown Chicago in a swimsuit!
Once I had my camera loaded with black and white film, I couldn’t wait to get back and capture those unusual images!
I was reading recently that you have a book called Dances through Glass. Can you tell me about about this project and how it came about?
I had a desire to record my artistic life. It is about my life and my advocation, my passion...art. A legacy. Something to “hold onto.” Something that will continue to exist long after I am gone. In that way it is like the art I make. The desire for immortality. Putting life into something inanimate. Something important, at least to me.
Mania and depression are two moods I struggle with. It was important for me to share my mental struggles in my book so I wrote a very personal essay, “Soaring and Crashing” at the beginning of the book.
It describes how Manic Depression affected me in a negative way. It also discusses how having a “different mind” has helped me to “see” abstractly.
Working with a project coordinator, editor and designer was quite an experience! As I was writing my very personal essay, I got really emotional. There are still some tears when I read it today!
I never realized how much work creating the book would be. I put everything into it. And the editing at the end was constant. I didn’t want it to have any mistakes. The editing nearly killed me!
Do you have any new projects you can tell us about?
Two things. I am back painting again this time combining painting and drawing abstractly, of course. I am also taking instruction in digital art with the intention of adding more intricate digital processes in my works. My intention is to create two new bodies of work, Painting and Digital.
Where can we find you online?
Polly Norman discusses her work and process, Art in Public Places video
All images courtesy of the artist. Interview written and edited by Jes Reyes.