Artist Mary Arthur Pollak
By Kathleen Downey
The door to Indigo Artist Studio is wide open on an unusually warm November afternoon, and the peal of wind chimes reverberates through the Middle Street neighborhood. Inside the studio, artist Mary Arthur Pollak is happily busy as she works on her monotype prints.
“There is a richness, a history, in the layered effect of monotypes that I love,” states Pollak.
Abstract prints adorn the walls of her artist’s space (Pollak shares the studio with fellow artist Lillian Coolidge). Propped against a work table rests an oversized monotype, breathtaking in its stark simplicity. Through the shades of burnt orange coloring, the delicate outline of a bird emerges.
Birds appear in several of Pollak’s studio prints.
“Nature inspires me,” says Pollak. “And Newburyport is such a lovely area; I find inspiration all around me.” Her textured abstracts, Pollak reveals, are creations of the simple beauty she discovers in the region’s various landscapes, particularly its fecund marshlands.
A graduate of Iowa State University (class of 1969), Pollak studied interior design. The Iowa girl came east to take a job at Paine Furniture Company in Boston. She expanded and refined her education through artist programs at various institutions, including Mass College of Art and Montserrat College of Art.
Pollak also married, became the mother to two children (now grown; her son lives in Hong Kong and her daughter lives in Munich), and settled in Ipswich with her husband, where the couple still resides. (“But we’ve been coming to Newburyport regularly since 1980,” Pollak asserts.)
After leaving her interior design job, Pollak sought to cultivate in young minds an appreciation for the visual and visceral beauty of art.
“I taught art to elementary students in Ipswich public schools and in Boston public schools,” Pollak shares. She gave her students lessons in art history as well as art.
Now retired, Pollak admits to sometimes missing the daily interactions with her students. “Inspiring children through art is so easy,” Pollak states, smiling as she reflects on her tenure as an educator.
Pollak still teaches on occasion, leading printmaking workshops for grownup artists. She’s taught at Redbrick Studios in Beverly, Hyperbole Gallery in Newburyport, and at her Indigo Artist Studio.
But Pollak’s main focus these days is on continuing to develop her own artistry.
“I find the artistic process very rewarding,” Pollak states. “New ideas come to me by just playing with different mediums and by using materials in new ways.” Pollak explains that while the discoveries she makes might be the same, artistically her creations take different forms.
Pollak’s current exhibition, Roots: drawn from Life, on display through December 4 at the Firehouse Gallery at the Firehouse Center for the Arts, is an artistic and physical embodiment of different forms.
“Believe it or not, I started with actual models,” Pollak asserts, referring to the abstract drawings featured in Roots.
Roots is a departure from the monotypes that Pollak typically creates. Using a mix of mediums, including graphite and charcoal, Pollak drew the many different fragmented forms that tumble and coalesce.
Each form embodies an “essential substance” that Pollak says is “derived from life”—and serves as the inspiration for the Roots exhibition title.
In her artist’s statement accompanying the exhibition, Pollak explains that, for her, the creative process is one that is personal and comes from within. “I am uncovering the form by connecting to the materials and the subject, leaving a record of my seeing,” she writes.
An avid traveler (frequenting Europe with her husband and spending summers on Westport Island, Maine), Pollak views the different locales she visits with an artist’s eye, recording images in her artist’s heart for later recall.
She also carries a camera in her travels.
“Taking photos is an excellent way to focus on composition,” Pollak asserts. She views her subjects through her camera’s lens in what she calls a “nontraditional way.”
“I like to find the abstraction in things,” Pollak says, adding that her photographs are often the basis for her monotypes.
In addition to being November’s artist of the month at the Firehouse Gallery, Pollak’s artwork has been featured in regional and national juried shows. She’s also the recipient of several awards, including 2011 Best of Show for the Ipswich Cultural Council Annual Art Show.
Kathleen Downey is the Features Editor for Newburyport Today. If you are a townie or a citizen who would like to be profiled (or to suggest someone to profile), or if you have an idea for a feature story, please email: Kathleen@Newburyport-Today.com