“Spilt Milk” is full of prints featuring individual symbols and stories from Polk’s own life.
The Alexandre Hogue Gallery hosted an artist’s talk and opening reception on Jan. 23 to introduce Kathryn Polk and her work to TU students, faculty and visitors. Polk has been a lifelong illustrator, but within the last two decades, she discovered a love for stone lithography, a method of printmaking. In Polk’s words, her dynamic works feature “a collection of personal visual narratives referencing the past to the present. My drawings and lithographs depict humorous, visual memories and thoughts through the eyes of all the women in my family.”
The artist’s talk highlighted Polk’s personal life and a slideshow of many of her pieces. Polk started off as a painting student, but her career was built on marketing illustrations; this still did not allow her full creative license, however. As a result, Polk quit her job and committed, full-time, to herself and her artwork. Polk expressed that her “creative side — [her] soul — was not being fed” until she started making art again on her own terms. As Polk delved into her creative process, she explained that she sketches and draws inspiration for her lithographs from her depictions of everyday life, memories, and ideas.
Some of the lithographs on display in “Spilt Milk” feature vibrant primary colors inspired by Polk’s time selling fireworks to pay for college. Others are more subtle in color but just as powerful in their portrayal of the artist’s memories, childhood misconceptions about the world or her commentary on current events. Each lithograph is meticulously crafted and depicts motifs and characters that echo through the rest of the gallery. The viewer can connect depictions of members of her family to the glass of “Spilt Milk,” representing the artist’s relationship with her sister, for which the exhibit is titled. Other repeated symbols include a crown, an iron, floating hands, logs, a purse, a blindfold, a red balloon, a cigar, a tattoo, an acorn, cacti, broken scissors and red thread, each of which are significant and meaningful to the artist and her life. These personal motifs are accompanied by broad symbolism within her lithographs that is universally meaningful.
Like her personal symbols, each work comes with a story; whether you hear it from the artist herself or create it on your own. Polk commented, “You might lose the relationship to the piece … if I don’t leave some of it up to you,” when asked to explain the meanings behind some of the paintings. Polk’s use of motifs provides her with a medium of expression that, on the surface, avoids commentary, but upon explanation or interpretation, yields a cathartic release of ideas and information about family, climate, gender, age and subverting expectations. This symbology is personal and unique to this collection of work, but the lithographs paint vivid imagery of universal ideas.
This lecture prompted me to examine the relationships between the artist, the art and the observer, recognizing the value of all three in such a personal and yet subjective gallery of work. The dichotomy between the artist’s creative expression and the viewer’s individual interpretation lends itself to personal and unique experiences with Polk’s work. The exhibit will be displayed in the Hogue Gallery until Feb. 6; I urge you to interpret these lithographs yourself and discover your own stories within Kathryn Polk’s evocative prints.