Polly Shindler: Place on Material

The artist in her studio at The Wassaic Project, 2020, photo by Luis Mejicanos

In her paintings CT based painter Polly Shindler takes a close look at lived-in spaces – interiors with furniture of different periods, textiles with colorful patterns, flooring with different textures. Here spaces are typically void of people and at the same time breath with a sense of human occupancy.

Tell me a bit about yourself and what brought you to painting.

Art was something that I was always interested in and felt competent doing but didn’t take seriously. It was like a party trick. People in school would ask me to draw them and while I don’t believe I did a very good job, they were impressed. It wasn’t until much later in life that I felt a shift. Most other occupations fell away and it became apparent that art was to be the main thing in my life.

Teacups, 2016, acrylic and composite gold leaf on canvas, 14” x 11”, courtesy of Polly Shindler

Looking at your paintings back from 2014 till present, I sense a noticeable shift in your approach in 2017. Quite a lot of your paintings before 2017 depict repetitive images as an abstracted overall pattern (cats, cups, boats, flowers, planets), along some more centralized images of landscapes or interiors but these also come across more like abstracted patterns. In 2017 your paintings become more centralized, focused on interiors mostly. What is your take on that and what is the genesis of this shift?

The change in my focus took place when I moved back to CT from NYC for health reasons. I had gone from sharing a studio with 4 other former Pratt classmates and a 10’ x 10’ space-making time for the studio while also working 40 hours per week- to an unlimited amount of time and room to work. I started fresh in a way, playing and experimenting and reading a lot about ways of making. I began with patterned pieces featuring cups, sailboats, flowers and then eventually wanted to see them situated. I’d never depended on my depiction skills before and I wasn’t used to representational composition but I kept pushing what I thought I didn’t know out of my mind.

White Chair with Red Floral Curtains, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 20” x 16”, courtesy of Polly Shindler

Tell me about Purple Chair with Supremetist Painting.

This is one of my paintings in which I take the opportunity to address interest in other art styles and eras. Inserting abstract paintings within interiors is a low stakes way for me to paint abstractly. But it is also an opportunity to shine a light on and show admiration for art in a historical context. I didn’t have any real affinity for Supremetist paintings until the last few years and now I think of it as the epitome of arrangement and decision making. I think I am drawn to the specificity of the works and in a way I am trying to ape the finality of making a choice.

Purple Chair with Supremetist Painting, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 14” x 11”, courtesy of Polly Shindler

You paint clothes, quilts, tablecloths, and recently masks. It seems to me that textile underscores in your paintings a special meaning, not only as a conduit for patterns but also perhaps as a connotation to domestic scenes and women’s work (painted and live). Is this a stretch on my end? What are your thoughts on that?

In my paintings, patterns are mostly a result of an interest in design, of the textile itself and its place on materials. I love learning about the history of textiles, the process, the design (colors, symbols), the culture that can be communicated through making (I’m thinking of Dutch wax fabric designs here as well as Gee’s Bend quilting compositions). However, in my own work, patterns are typically presented as an aesthetic choice. My selections usually denote a time period, or a style. I’m drawn to stylistic flourishes and I look to designers in history (Art Deco, Bloomsbury Group, etc.) and then try to create patterns of my own. Additionally, I have begun quilting during quarantine and find creating and using patterns (both the pattern of the fabrics and the pattern of the quilt) in this way completely different in this new medium.

Quilt on Bed, 2020, acrylic on paper, 12” x 9”, courtesy of Polly Shindler

Grandma’s Fan Quilt with Lace Curtains, 2020, acrylic on paper, 14” x 11”, courtesy of Polly Shindler

Your compositions often close in on your subject – an organized closet, a quilted bed in front of a lace curtained double window. Let’s take a look at Grandma’s Fan Quilt with Lace Curtains. What is the idea and process behind this painting?

This particular painting was born simply out of my learning how to quilt and exploring a new medium. Once you start looking through quilt designs and patterns, you get lost in the possibilities. As a novice, all the designs I was discovering via Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram, were novel but many of the quilters had histories with their quilts and their work was imbued with meaning and memory. I have done paintings of both aspirational and fully realized quilts. As with my paintings, I am making mostly aesthetic choices in creating quilts. The blankets satisfy my love for pattern and color, direction and comfort.

You seem to focus on domestic scenes which make me feel this is a familiar space, at times with an almost voyeuristic sense, especially in your recent paintings like Covid Bed and On Sundays We Wash Masks. What would you like to share about these paintings?

As a result of quarantine, my paintings have become more intimate, more personal and more domestic. I feel I have been paying closer attention to the mundane, the routine of being home and developing a new schedule. In addition to noticing the changes in rhythm, I think pleasure in the comforts of home have emerged. My bed, my personal effects, and my dog have all become more present in the paintings of the past year, as I’m working from home and engaging more with domestic scenes. I held a few fundraisers for causes and organizations that needed attention and support during the 15 months of pandemic. The subjects (coats, robes, beds) were correlated in a way for each fundraiser, which were all related to parity, home and comfort, warmth and safety.

On Sundays We Wash Masks, 2020, acrylic on paper, 12” x 9”, courtesy of Polly Shindler

Your domestic interiors often carry an engaging tension between patterns and fields of color, leading to different psychological effects. For instance, in Room with Sneakers and Open Window, the quilt pattern within the room creates a sense of a recognizable place. But in Kitchen with Red Grid Wallpaper, where you seem to focus exclusively on pattern interplay, the whole space becomes a raw nerve, an inner space. Tell me about the genesis of these two paintings and what was your thought process while making them?

This question is a perfect opportunity to compare two different ways of my thinking process during the making of a painting. For me, there is a fine line to be drawn between realism and design. The structures and composition have similar elements; it’s the surfaces that change. Both have elements of a real place, a bed, a table, a floor. It’s the makeup of the objects and surfaces that require different treatments. Where one painting focuses on the construction of the blanket, the other is a study in all-over pattern. One feels like a “real” space (Sneakers), the other (Grid) is less a space, more a feeling or situation. I like to bounce back and forth over this line, depending on where my interests lie in the moment of making the thing.

Room with Sneakers and Open Window, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 20” x 16”, courtesy of Polly Shindler

Kitchen with Red Grid Wallpaper, 2020, acrylic on paper, 12” x 9”, courtesy of Polly Shindler

What are you working in your studio these days?

I continue to make work primarily in my home studio. While I still concentrate mainly on interiors and still lifes, I have also started to take trips (most recently Monhegan Island, ME) and either paint on site or take reference photos to use for future work. I have never been a landscape painter but I have really begun to love plein air painting-it really stretches my level of comfort in my knowledge.

Monhegan Island, 2021, acrylic on paper, 11” x 12”, courtesy of Polly Shindler

I have also started to dip my toe back into abstraction with some floral and landscape-based paintings. I have been gardening and I think watching the plants develop has worked itself into my aesthetic. I have a few projects ahead that I think will keep me busy. And try to make time for experimentation which often means a shift in materials (I started making paper mache vehicles last year). It’s fun to see how one subject presents itself in other forms. I hope I can always integrate my interests and experiments into my work. In the past I’ve sometimes felt the need to create boundaries around what I make/share. But I think that time has passed and everything is in play.

Pond Life, 2021, acrylic on paper, 11” x 14”, courtesy of Polly Shindler

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: artspielblog@gmail.com