ARTIST FEATURE 18: POLLY ALEXANDER

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

We're back! After a VERY busy month, Works Without Walls is back up and running. In between the World Cup (It's coming home), Wimbledon, the glorious British heatwave and our two week road trip along the Spanish coast, we had a chat with the wonderful Polly Alexander. Polly is a sculptor living and working in Brighton.

Polly says, "Materially, I am interested in the ways in which soft sculpture can be used to represent the body. It is important that the viewer psychologically projects life, emotion and their own experiences onto these bodily objects. Presently, my work concerns itself with the fragmented and injured body. Projecting anxiety and sickness, these are figures that seek comfort-in themselves, in others, and in objects."

Her striking, twisted pink piece was a highlight at the Grand Parade final show, and It's been a real treat to find out more about herself, and her work.



Hi Polly! Will you tell us a bit about yourself, what do you do and how you would describe your work? 
My name is Polly Alexander, and I’m a Brighton based artist and recent Sculpture graduate from Brighton Uni. My work explores the vulnerability of the body and the objects we use to support and enhance our bodies. Mostly that involves soft sculpture at the moment - lots of floppy droopy figures that try and keep themselves propped up, but end up slumping down and enveloping the objects that are trying to help them.

When did you start creating art?  
I’ve been making work since college (I don’t count whatever came before that!) But making things that I’m not embarrassed to show people? Probably in the last two years.

Lumbar Support

I love the way that your recent pieces all seem to interlock, as if they're part of a continuing narrative. Is this intentional? 
I would say my work has really become more refined and specific in the last year, which has incidentally been the final year of my degree. It’s been in the last year that I’ve really started pursuing textiles as a medium- I’ve become really interested in how textiles can be used to mimic the drooping and sagging and folding of the human body.

I think there are definitely recurring themes in my work; I’m constantly thinking about the inherent weirdness of the body and how uncomfortable and alienating it can be to live in one. I think that bodily anxiety and these feelings of uncanniness are always present in my work. I also get really excited by the items and processes we use to support and prop up our bodies when they fail us, like sports bandages or facemasks, and rituals of care and comfort. I kind of see the weird soft bodies I make as bodies that need to be looked after, propped up so they don’t fall down, wrapped in a blanket and given a hug- there’s something lonely and pathetic about them, and I want other people to feel that too.

Have you ever experimented with any other art forms, or have you always worked with sculpture?
Not enough! I do a lot of drawing in the preliminary stages of making a piece, but I’d really like to push to make my drawings pieces of work in their own right.

Grandmother


What is about sculpture that really appeals to you?
The “3D-ness” of sculpture is just so constantly exciting to me. I’m never happier than when I get to bring an idea into physical being. I really love making things with my hands- I love drawing and it’s actually a big part of the ways my work comes into being, but I’ve just never found it as stimulating. Engagement with materials is something that’s really important to me, and it’s something I’m able to do every day I’m in the studio, which is the best.

You mentioned earlier that you're "constantly thinking about the inherent weirdness of the body and how uncomfortable and alienating it can be to live in one". Would you say your personality or emotions are reflected in your work?
I’m naturally quite an anxious person, and I think that definitely comes across in my work.

Spa Day

Where do you get inspiration from?
So many different places! Strange Medieval illustrations, religious icons, weird plastic beauty supplies you can buy on eBay for less than a quid, piles of neatly folded blankets, patchwork quilts, body pillows, abandoned stuffed toys, domestic medical supplies- plasters, bandages, creams and lotions, the spa- clean fluffy towels, face masks, clay and scented oils; old medical diagrams, instructional diagrams, horrendous dated bathroom furnishings, upholstery, soft furnishings.

And then, of course, getting to see other artists’ work and seeing the different ways that they communicate their ideas to the world, the materials they use, the themes they explore…

Who are your favourite artists? 
When I first started making work, Berlinde de Bruyckere was an enormous inspiration. She conveys such quiet horror and isolation through her disembodied figures, but her work is so beautiful. I’m really in awe of her technique of slowly building up her bodies through layers and layers of differently tinted waxes.

Berlinde de Bruyckere
I also really love Holly Hendry, Jala Wahid and Karla Black for their use of unusual materials such as turmeric, eyeshadow and chewing gum. I really enjoy works that reference the body in a less obvious way, food and makeup are so intrinsic to how we relate to our bodies at the same time as being totally separated from them, so I find it really exciting when domestic materials such as food and makeup are combined with more traditionally sculptural materials like plaster or steel.

Do you find it hard to overcome creative blocks?
Creative block can be really demoralizing. I’ve found that the best ways to get through it are through talking out your ideas with other artists- my studio at Brighton Uni has been amazing for this- it’s so brilliant being surrounded by so many interesting, creative, driven people- it’s something I’m already missing since graduating! I sometimes really need someone to pick apart an idea so that I can really refine my work. Talking things out with other people can bring clarity to things in a way that you can’t get from being stuck in your own head. On a base level though, what really helps me the most is just messing about with materials, sticking stuff together and seeing what comes out of it.

Which is more important to you, the original concept behind the work, or the way it is executed?  
It’s important for there to be a balance - I want my work to be conceptually and aesthetically exciting. I’m driven by the theories and themes behind my work, it’s these interests in the body and mind that push me to make work, but at the same time it’s important to me that my work doesn’t become too inaccessible. I want my grandma or anyone else who doesn’t have an arts background to be able to look and react to my work, even if that reaction is just a “oh that’s a bit sad and weird looking.”

Towel Dry


Do you think Art is a good medium for questioning politics, society, gender issues and the like? 
I think art can be a really good platform for talking about serious social issues in a fresh and exciting way. It can be a way of making complex political ideas accessible to a wider audience as well as encouraging people to engage with what’s going on around them, which is so important.

You've just graduated from the University of Brighton. Can you tell us a little about living in Brighton? Would you say that living in Brighton has encouraged you to work harder/pushed you to create more?
I’ve loved living in Brighton! As an ex-Londoner, it's been nice to live somewhere with a slower pace and a friendlier attitude. Living outside of some of the stresses of London has been really valuable in giving me the space I needed to develop my practice in a really encouraging environment, with lots of other creative people around me! Having said that though, I have missed the access to so many galleries. I’m looking forward to moving back there for a bit - I hope the change helps push me further and keep me motivated.

What are your plans for the next year? Do you have any exhibitions/viewings or collabs coming up?
I’m in the process of moving at the moment, but hopefully when I’m more settled there’ll be some things in the pipeline!

For more of Polly and her work, you can check out her Instagram, or her lovely website. 


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