A Polly Nor drawing pops up in your Instagram feed, and you can’t help but stare. An instant voyeur, a naughty lurker, you relish the girly, debaucherous details. Her female heroes let it all hang out, revealing their innermost emotions, lustful intentions, and intimate moments with inner demons.
Indeed, their identity is ours. Are they empowered? In despair? Alone? What are they Googling? The more questions an image generates, the more successful it becomes. Polly Nor is a London artist who should be feeling like Pablo right about now. She’s making waves.
Kristin Farr: Is there an elaborate narrative behind your work, or is it more like snapshots of a mysterious story?
Polly Nor: I like to think of it as a little dystopian world of stir-crazy, housebound women and their demons. Each drawing is like a glimpse into the thoughts and dreams of the characters that live within that world. Usually my drawings will feature one female protagonist. Then I draw the devil characters as figments of her imagination, a manifestation of her frustrations, feelings and desires.
How do you describe your drawing style?
It’s very flat and colorful, so it’s definitely got that cartoony look, but I like drawing things that are a bit dark and unsettling. The other day somebody commented on one of my drawings on Instagram, “So a ten-year-old drew this.” I will go with that. It would have to be a very disturbed ten-year-old who drew it though.
And a talented one. Trolls are the worst. What have been some other weird reactions to your work?
I seem to have tapped into an audience of total freaks—which I love. I get a lot of weird but generally positive comments, mainly from teenage girls, who my work seems to resonate with most. But recently, as things have started taking off for me, I’ve started getting more comments from guys like, “Hey, do you call drawing disgusting things art? Well, I have never heard of you, so go figure.” When you get random Internet dudes trying to take you down a peg, I think it’s time to give yourself a big pat on the back.
That’s when you know you’ve made it. Do you consider your work art or illustration? Is it done by hand, digitally, or a mix of both?
All of my recent stuff is roughed out in pencil, then pen, and then I scan and color it digitally. The way I’m working at the moment is technically more like an artist. I’m focusing primarily on self-directed projects and building up my own body of work to exhibit, but I also do some commission-based illustration work.
Does the current political climate influence your drawings?
Unfortunately, the political climate seems to be distracting me from drawing. It’s so depressing. I literally spend my life scrolling through news articles that pop up on my Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes I don’t even read the articles, but I will sit there reading the comments for ages without noticing. This feeling of disengagement with the outside world is something I like to explore in my work. The characters tend to be closed up in their rooms, connected to their screens, but detached from other human beings.
Room décor seems is very detailed in some of your work. Is it inspired by your own environment?
Most of the décor, like the lava lamps and heart lamps, is stuff I had or still have in my room. When I was young, before Tumblr and Instagram even existed, the way me and my female friends would express ourselves would be through the decoration of our rooms. Every month or so, I would give my room a makeover and decide what it really needed was something like CDs tacked up over an entire wall, a montage dedicated to my favorite rappers, or a new shelf to display my sneaker collection. The posters, photos and trinkets you chose to put on display would either say something about you, what you were into, or at least how you wanted to be perceived. I like to bring this into my work by imagining what each character would keep in their room and what it says about them.
Hedonism, emotional turmoil, tenderness and sexuality are things I’m reading into your work. What else am I missing, and why are you drawn to these subjects?
I am drawn to these subjects because they are all so prevalent in our culture. We now live in a totally hedonistic society, dependent on technology for our social contact, entertainment and sexual gratification. Having grown up as part of the first generation to be introduced to easily accessible internet, a lot of my work is influenced by my own unhealthy Internet habit, as well as the habits of those around me.
Social media, Instagram in particular, plays a massive role in my work. I like to take a satirical look at the way we behave online. By using alternative screen names and displaying a selective narrative of our lives through filtered photographs and online updates, we present a carefully contrived, parallel identity of ourselves. I draw a lot of ideas from this exploration of image, identity and the anxiety behind it.
In subverting the male gaze, so ubiquitous in art, your characters become very powerful and confident. Do you consider your work to be feminist?
I tend to draw ideas from my own experience of life, so, as a female artist, there are strong themes of female identity in there. I am interested in creating images that focus on the feelings, thoughts and stories of my female characters instead of focusing on how pretty they look. Too often in arts, media and pornography, women are represented as either decorative objects or functional tools with no real character or ideas of their own. This is something that I like to challenge, however I don’t really like putting any definitive labels on my work as it makes me feel a little restricted about what I should and shouldn’t be drawing. Lots of my work is about being a woman and you could definitely call that feminist art, but then some of my work is about silly stuff which nobody should take that seriously.
What’s the last image you drew?
The last completed piece was called Moving At My Own Pace. It’s of a part-girl-part-snail. It’s slightly different than my usual stuff, more simple, with dark colors and a blank background. I wasn’t too keen on it, but lots of my male friends keep saying it’s their favorite. Probably because the girl’s gut is covered for once.
Seeing their guts makes them more real. By the way, your titles are great. How do they come up?
Usually I think of an idea and title, draw it, and then end up calling it something different by the time I’m finished. I like to call it something that hints at my intention, but leaves it open enough for people to read into it how they wish. I used to put a bit more effort into thinking up the titles. Sometimes I’d take ages to come up with something I thought was really clever, then as soon as I’d upload it, some kid on the other side of the world would re-gram it and come up with a much funnier caption to put underneath within just a few moments.
Describe your alter-ego.
Red skin, horns, saggy boobs, cigarette, toe-socks.
Originally published in the June, 2016 issue of Juxtapoz Magazine, on newsstands worldwide and in our webstore.