Georgia Polkey ’15 MFA grew up in New Orleans, a city known for its nonstop nightlife, and in a family she describes as “frenzied.”
“[The city] is this mash-up of really weird people in places where you don’t think they should be,” says the mixed media artist and painter whose work is part of “A World Still in the Making,” the annual MFA Exhibition at the William Benton Museum of Art. “My own family is a family of addictions very much like the city of New Orleans. But to me, it was my home. This is where I grew up. I feel uncomfortable when things are too calm.”
Polkey says when she began to paint, she wanted to show “some type of turmoil and wearing of the surface” in her artwork. She began her undergraduate studies in art history, but in her second year switched to painting and drawing. She was attracted to the German Expressionists, particularly Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele, who did portraits of people whose lives she describes as “worn.”
“There was something honest about them that I didn’t see in other works,” she says. “The German Expressionists really captured for me trying to make sense out of the world. Even the way they painted or drew. Schiele’s lines were shaky and anxiety-ridden. Kokoshka would clump paint on the surface so it felt like skin was falling off and you were revealing some kind of internal psychosis.”
Arriving in Storrs for the two-year MFA program, Polkey knew she would be moving in a new direction with her art, no longer painting portraits but experimenting with a new genre.
She says, “I didn’t want to paint the body. I’m in a new place. I’m getting paid to work. This is the only time I’ll have this much freedom. I have a huge space at the graduate studios. I’m just going to unleash. Whatever is inside of me is coming out.”
What has emerged in Polkey’s art is a large scale abstract vision that helps her make order out of the usual buzz of life in the Big Easy. Using construction materials such as drywall, paint, insulation foam, wire, and various forms of paper, Polkey references what she describes as “the battle that takes place” inside the human body.
“The resulting aftermath is not only preserving an internal domesticity but an internal reflection upon one’s body,” she says in her artist statement for the exhibition.
“When I first got here, I was doing sort of card catalog paintings and putting them together to make a larger composition,” Polkey says. “But I was always searching. I love scale and I love it being large. I used to make smaller paintings, but I like when smaller paintings make a larger whole.”
“A Built In Remedy,” a mixed media on drywall work, was among her first creations. She started using a wall of her studio as a canvas and continued to add dyed tracing paper, paint, caulking, and other materials.
“I just worked on my studio walls. I wasn’t thinking that I’d have to move it to the Benton, literally working on the wall,” she says with a smile. “I learned my lesson after that one.”
Polkey says her studio is cluttered with material detritus, making it easy to retrieve something that had fallen on the floor to be used in a new work. Seeing her art in a more ordered museum setting, she says she is “intrigued” by its appearance.
“It felt more fine arty to me,” the artist says. “I still don’t know how to feel about that. I still like the idea of creating an ugly aesthetic. People are drawn to these.”
Polkey says she has mixed emotions now that she is completing the MFA program with her cohort of classmates in the Benton exhibition – Claire Coleman, a printmaker and photographer; Elliott Katz, a sculptor and photographer; Cynthia Melendez, a photographer; and Linda Smith, a photographer and video artist.
“I’m scared of losing the community we have, but I’m excited that I found something that I can pursue,” she says. “There’s another art community out there for me. It’s a question of where it is. I haven’t done all the possibilities for this yet. There are so many different options, so many different scales.”
“The 2015 Master of Fine Arts Exhibition: A World Still in the Making” continues at the William Benton Museum of Art, 245 Glenbrook Road, through May 10. For more information, go to the Benton website.
NOTE: The newly remodeled Beanery Café has opened in the Benton and is open seven days a week: 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. on the weekends. The Café features a new modern-tiled, subway look, more Torani syrups than can be found anywhere else on campus, space for musical performances, and a special selection of sandwiches and baked goods, along with about 60 seats.