Interview #16: Michèle Polak (2021)
“The Human Body in All its Elements”／Interview by Paul Allender & Laura Galinier
Michele Polak is a digital artist who lives in Bergen, North Holland. While her latest work has been focusing on the natural elements, she is just beginning a new project in collaboration with a British painter Paul Allender which explores the human body using a mix of photography, painting and digital interventions.
Here’s our interview with her.
LG／Can you briefly tell us who you are and where you come from? What are your influences and artistic aspirations?
MP／I lived in Amsterdam for a long time and was resident photographer at the Dutch National Opera House. This provided a great grounding in analogue photography, something which helps me enormously in my current digital work. Sometimes, I miss the excitement of analogue photography in which you make more complex and nuanced decisions.
So, the world of theatre and music led me to explore art and literature in a much wider sense. It was a dream time for me.
It was a new experience for me to work with a digital camera and an iPhone. Something very different to the old classic camera. I call what I do now ‘sketching with light’; I carry the camera and phone with me all the time to catch images and then I work on them in the studio to convey the right mood.
I am very inspired by where I live now: Bergen in North Holland. Images of air, sea, sun and earth touch and flow into each other. This is directly reflected in my current work which provides unique optical illusions. Sketching with light in dark shapes is my playground — which I call ‘Vent du Nord’. The digital camera, iPhone and iPad give me endless possibilities as regards editing and improving the quality of the image. I show a world of different layers using digital techniques, creating colours and placing them together and sometimes merging several images into one. I love it.
LG／What are the themes that you explore in your photography?
MP／The four primal elements (fire, earth, light and water) in the form of sun, sand, air and sea. They play with each other: shifting, penetrating and mixing. This produces a stream of intriguing images. Sun and wind create many different optical illusions in water: bizarre, not existent shapes where the water acts like a magical lens. This whole spectacle is a very important part of my life. I create images by working in layers, merging and editing photos. They play a different role in a new whole: Panta Rhei. Light and darkness.
Living so close to nature also gives me constant concern for this complex natural system, perhaps sometimes too complex for humans to understand.
LG／What is your relationship to colour? Blue seems important to you.
MP／My natural habitat is close to the sea and sky: both are blue. I am absorbed by the elements which appear in greys and blues.
My colour blue stands for:
Utopia; Purity; Beauty, Air and Water.
LG／Can your approach be characterized as spontaneity and chance or deep reflection which compels the creation of an image?
MP／I am looking for the unseen. We are going into a new phase of photography. This medium will never be the same again. For me, digital photography is on the brink of moving to completely new image forming. This process has already begun. What I enjoy now is digital photography with painting or drawing, the integration of the new technique into classical art.
I need to clear my head to make a new image. I call this ‘playing’: looking at our world in a spontaneous way, especially the changes in the elements. Post-production is a very important stage in the creation of an image: nothing looks the same as it was in the beginning. Using digital techniques, I create new colours and merge images.
The human figure hardly ever appears in my work. However, in 2021, I will be making a series of nude forms as ‘monuments’, with the natural elements also performing an important role. Human forms in abstraction. I will collaborate on this project with Paul Allender, a British painter I have met on Instagram (@pauliepaul55). I am attracted to his unique personality which I see and like in his work: free, open, strong and passionate. I think that the most important thing though is that it is an adventure for two artists and that they are equally excited to work together.
LG／Why the choice of this photo with a human presence? What does this man mean to you?
MP／The man in the photo is the English painter Paul Allender. At my request he sent me a selfie and I worked in several layers with my own photo over his portrait. This is our first co-production, of which we hope there will be many. The photo reminds me of my theatre/opera background.
LG／Are there any art works that left a big impression on you?
MP／I am influenced by the art I grew up with. It is not easy to pinpoint what made a lasting impression. French and Russian cinema were important as was the British film Blow-Up. Theatre photography had a major influence.
I often focus on minimal music, with its repetitive patterns. As a house photographer for the Dutch Opera in Amsterdam, I was directly involved in the production of Philip Glass’ opera “Satyagraha”. The enormous discipline it took to make and perform this piece was astounding. This one was of the first opera productions I photographed and attended, and I took photos at every rehearsal and performance. As you might imagine, this left a huge impression on me.
I now see and feel the effects in my current work: repetitive patterns, minimal art and the (slow) motions of nature.
LG／What are your upcoming art projects?
MP／As I have mentionned, this year I will be focussing on a collaboration with Paul Allender in a major multi-disciplinary experiment involving digital images and paint. We met on Instagram and have found a synchronicity in our creative visions and aspirations. The first part of our collaboration will focus on the human nude figure [see picture below].
LG／What does Paul think of this collaboration?
MP／Paul wrote: “I have loved Michele’s work on IG for a number of years now. She is truly ground-breaking in the way that she combines a number of her own images and manipulates them to create something completely new and different. When I see a new post of hers on IG, I always have a sharp intake of breath! Her work is incisive, thoughtful, beautifully composed and exciting. More than anything else it has visual meaning which cannot be expressed in words. It shares an approach with some abstract painting. It is a great honour, and very exciting, to be working with her. We share a concern about the future of the planet and, equally, we share an aesthetic vision, even though our work looks very different. I come from Sheffield in the North of England, an industrial city as I was growing up. A lot of my work reflects that hard and dirty environment. It also reflects the harsh emotional culture of a city famous for making steel. There are also lots of other elements to my work. What it definitely shares with Michele’s images though is that it has visual meaning that can’t be expressed in words. I am really looking forward to our work together.”
Michèle Polak is a digital artist who lives in Bergen, North Holland. While her latest work has been focusing on the natural elements, she is just beginning a new project in collaboration with a British painter Paul Allender which explores the human body using a mix of photography, painting and digital interventions.
Interview written by Dr. Paul Allender.
Artist and questions presented by Laura Galinier.