Susan Polansky – Lexington, Massachusetts, USA
I consider myself to be a painter, although not in the conventional sense. Melding fundamentals of fine art and quilting traditions, I collage fabrics together to create my imagery. Machine stitching holds the work together and further defines shape and character.
The “magic” of the art is content and emotions conjured through an impressionistic blend of color, texture and pattern. My primary objective is to create a believable atmosphere, so for that purpose, I rely mostly on representational portrayals.
I have chosen to work with textiles as their universal familiarity supports my vision of reality. Earlier pieces were intuitive explorations of medium and technique, while current work focuses on purposeful execution of the concept, which is developed through research and drawing. Despite the specific nature of artistic intention and process, I maintain spontaneity through the selection and manipulation of materials at hand.
I am interested in narrative realism, and see myself progressing towards that style. Visceral response from the beholder is deeply satisfying, although not the motivator for my art. Rather, it is my own emotional convictions that provoke further exploration and dedication to my artistic endeavors.
(Click images to enlarge)
SAQA: When did you begin making art with fabric? Do you work in other media as well?POLANSKY: No other medium has given me the satisfaction that I get from working with textiles. I started my first quilt 28 years ago. It was a traditional applique that took 7 years to finish. Despite a vow to never to do that again, I was hooked on how “right” textiles felt as a way to mix color, texture and process. I recognized that if I used the materials in my own way, I’d be able to give a unique dynamic to my visual statements.
The various side trips of my artistic path inform what I do today. Drawing makes me look at line, sculpture has me looking at shape and volume. I use paint on some of my textiles, and my experience in graphic design and computer art shows up in my work. I also like to work with mixed media, mostly assemblages of found objects. I creatively “problem-solve” – shape the question, then reply with a thoughtful and well-formed visual statement.
SAQA: What inspires you?
POLANSKY: I relentlessly review inspiration all around me: how I would depict what I’m feeling, or musing over an interesting twist of words, or noting the unusual visual qualities of my environment. I’ve compared ideas to individuals – many pass by, hardly noticed, yet some become acquaintances.
A few are irresistibly intriguing, and I’ll make a complete commitment to them, spending time exploring until I feel the relationship has been exhausted. At that point, everything has been said and I’m ready to move on to a fresh idea, which is why I don’t work in a series.
SAQA: Have any artists or art movements influenced your work?POLANSKY: Curiously enough, my husband and I had one of our only fights over an artist. He insisted that Norman Rockwell was a great artist and I maintained that he was “only” a commercial illustrator. I found out that Rockwell did meticulous research and preparation to portray a moment in time, one where you could imagine before and after sequences, setting up his pictures like a movie director. He felt that everything in the picture should help carry the theme and he excelled in composing his narratives.
As my oeuvre has developed I’ve come to appreciate Rockwell’s art. I also like Impressionism for its optical color mixing, and Contemporary Art for its more often cerebral approach to making a visual statement.
SAQA: What techniques and materials do you use?
POLANSKY: Primarily I use store bought cottons, silk blend batting, and fusible web for my stitched fabric collage. For smaller pieces, I’ll design on the fly, using my design wall to pin up pieces that I’ve free-hand cut. Larger pieces require more planning as it becomes increasingly difficult to move lots of tiny pieces around.
I will work on a drawing or make a composite of images with Photoshop to plan the composition, and the color choices will be made as I put the piece together. Sometimes I make a model of the scene I’m creating, or do research about my topic before I begin. I’ll use any combination of techniques to get the effect I’m going for, whether it be fussy cutting to get an exact area of a print, or tracing, or wide brush painting, or using some combo of heat and water dissolving stabilizers.
Everything ends up on a muslin backing, getting held together with a minimum of fusible web or textile glue, and then gets transferred to my A-1 longarm. I stitch over everything, using my machine as a drawing tool, changing colors frequently, to add texture and details. I went through a phase where I didn’t allow myself to use paint, as I thought that was “cheating,” but I’m over that now. When it comes to art, process and materials are not as important as the eloquence of expression.
SAQA: Where do you create?POLANSKY: My studio is in a bedroom of my house. I have two design walls, my computer on a work table, and an 8-foot A-1 longarm sewing machine. Four windows let in lots of beautiful natural light. I also have my drafting table from when I did freelance design work, that holds my Pfaff machine. My husband installed shelving baskets in the closet to contain my folded fabrics, organized by color.
SAQA: How do you reconcile the art-making and business sides of your creative life?
POLANSKY: I don’t make any one piece for financial gain, or to please a certain audience, although I have gotten the satisfaction of both. I struggle with things that I have not done: teach, promote, sell; it is easy to blame life obstacles for having muddled the path to “success,” but then again, the same difficulties forced me to examine the very meaning of that word.
I have found success in balancing self-fulfillment with responsibility to the outside world. Although I’ve worked solely to satisfy myself, my work often moves the emotions and thoughts of the public. I see great value in that, in bringing art out of the studio, and with increased visibility, I’ve added value to my art.
SAQA: What are you working on now? What’s next?
POLANSKY: I have two very different projects happening in my studio. On the design wall is a Redwood forest quilt, inspired by my husband’s painting. He began painting in acrylics about three years ago, and has progressed quickly to a point where we are thinking of doing a show together. We have several works done in our respective mediums that started from the same point of inspiration and developed into independent yet related works.
Also, I’m working on something more free-form as a political statement. It involves rope, newspaper and hand sewing, but I can’t say yet how that will come out. It’s one of those ideas that just compels me to see where it will lead. It might be a diversion from my typical method, but following creative leads keeps things fresh and exciting.