Polly is best known for her dark and satirical drawings of women and their demons. Her recent body of work features a range of hand-drawn illustration, digital illustration, sculpture and installation work. Interweaving themes of identity, female sexuality and emotional turmoil throughout her work, Nor is inspired by her own female experience of life in the internet age. Her Illustrations often tell stories of anxiety, complicated relationships and the struggle for self-acceptance.
Polly has been commissioned by a variety of clients including Bloomsbury Publishing, Dazed Digital, Dr Martens, Complex Magazine and Gucci and has been featured by i-D, Dazed, Wonderland, Stylist, BBC Three, Time Out, Nylon, Cool Hunting, It’s Nice That, Creative Review as well as a cover feature with Polyester Zine and Juxtapoz
Who/what inspires you artistically?
I get most of my inspiration from my own experience of life and the people I meet. A lot of my inspiration comes from conversations with friends about everything, love, sex, mental health, work. I’m really interested in people and their stories. I also get a lot of inspiration from dreams, the thoughts and feelings that linger in our subconscious.
What’s your creative process?
When I first started working in my illustrative style four years back I had a pretty routine creative process. I would start by sitting down and visualising how I felt on paper, sketching in pencil, redrawing in pen and then scanning, colouring digitally and then releasing them on Instagram. After my last solo show last August I started to feel frustrated with working to the same routine and I began questioning my impulse to share everything I create online and the impact it was having on my own mental health and the quality of my work as an artist. So for the past year I’ve been experimenting with different mediums like latex and ceramics, I’ve also been writing and storyboarding a lot, I’m really interested in developing my individual ideas into longer stories with proper narratives. I will be sharing these projects for the first time at my next solo ‘Airing My Dirty Laundry’ opening at Protein Studios from the 12th – 17th October.
Have you always drawn womxn?
Yeah ever since I was a child, for as long as I can remember. I’ve just never really been interested in drawing anything else.
The womxn you draw are so diverse, is this something you strive to do?
Having grown up in London it’s always felt natural to draw a diverse range of characters inspired by the people around me. I’m drawn to issues like mental health, toxic relationships, body-image, sexual-abuse and female sexuality all of which are issues that have greatly affected me growing up but issues that also affect womxn worldwide so I want to represent these stories through a wide range of characters. However, as much as I strive to make my work inclusive I can only really draw from my own fairly privileged experience of those issues. That’s why think it’s important for the mainstream media to give recognition to a more diverse range of artists so they have the opportunity to tell their own stories. There so many artists creating really important work exploring their own identity at the moment, for example, Joy Miessi, Shadi Attallah, Corey Washington, Melissa Kitty, Ayqa Khan, Rene Matic and Tschabalala Self.
Even though you depict demons in your illustrations, they are not always ‘evil’ looking, why is that?
I draw the demons as part of my character’s subconscious, a manifestation of their insecurities, frustrations, and emotional state. I guess I usually think of them more of a menacing inner critic more than a then an evil presence over my characters but when you look at my drawings you might notice that the
demons change form from drawing to drawing in the same way that characters in our dreams take on dual personalities and meanings. Often in my dreams, even the most horrible and dangerous characters can suddenly switch to appearing or feeling somewhat familiar
and vulnerable, I want my demons to look and feel the same.
Talk us through the themes of sexuality in your work.
Sex is and female sexuality is definitely something I like to explore within my work. I like to question the ubiquitous male vision of women and sex that we have become accustomed to through most male-dominated media, or mainstream porn in particular and offer a satirical and alternative view on female sexuality, relationships and emotions from a modern-day female perspective. Having grown up in a school where girls were hugely outnumbered by boys I always felt the pressure to appear sexually attractive but learned that sexuality and the desire for sex was something only safe for (cis) boys to express. Despite boys putting a lot of pressure on girls for sex, there was always a huge stigma around girls choosing to be sexually active, girls that said no were labelled frigid, girls that said yes were labelled sluts and regularly humiliated about it. I still think that it’s probably played a part in why I’ve ended up making and sharing the kind of work that I do. I think deep down it’s a bit of fuck you to our society that forces womxn to feel ashamed of themselves and their sexual choices.
How do you try and convey female empowerment through art?
I think womxn have always been expected to put up with a lot of bullshit, to repress their anger, and stay quiet to avoid appearing bitter or hysterical. My art has given me the power to explore the darker parts of life that I have never known what to do with.
I use my characters to capture the awkward, uncomfortable and unglamorous sides of the female experience. I find expressing my thoughts and feelings through my work can feel very empowering and therapeutic and I hope that my audience can also find some comfort
in the honesty if it.
Social media plays a huge role in your illustrations; how does social media affect your personal and artistic life?
Social media has been a vital tool for my work, it has given me a platform to self-publish my work and connect with a huge audience of similarly minded people instantly. It has also been a source of endless inspiration as I am really interested in the way people behave online, the projection of perfection and the anxieties and insecurities behind it that come with it. We live in a very image-obsessed society where there is a lot of pressure on womxn to be constantly adapting our bodies to fit societies very narrow ideal of beauty and social media definitely has a big part to play in it. I personally have to be selective with who I chose to follow or I can be easy to get sucked into unhealthy thought patterns. I try to fill my timeline with artists, writers, comedians and activists to try and counteract the ever-present focus on beauty on my Instagram explore page.
What are some of the best reactions to your work that you’ve had?
I guess the tattoos are the best reaction. I’m always honoured that so many people have chosen to carry my art around on their skin forever. I get a lot of very touching messages and comments, it means a lot to me that so many people have a connection with my
work. I’ve had a lot of people commenting that I need to see a therapist or to that, I should be locked up in a mental institute. I get a lot of “there’s something seriously wrong with you” I kind of like the negative ones, it reassures me that my work hasn’t become too mainstream.
Your characters are often shown in the privacy of their bedroom, this could be considered a ‘safe space’. What safe spaces do you inhabit in real life or online?
Growing up my bedroom was at times a safe space and during the bad times, it felt more like a prison. I used to find it very difficult to leave the house sometimes I still do. I think that’s why I draw most of my characters in their bedrooms. These days my studio is my safe space, I love working and spending all my time there.
Polly Nor plans for the future? What do you want to accomplish?
My solo exhibition ‘Airing My Dirty Laundry In Public’ Opens at Protein Studios from the 12th – 17th of October. I’ll be displaying a new collection of digital illustrations featuring a previously unseen 39 part series, plus new ceramic sculpture work, an immersive installation, as well as a full collection of my original hand-drawn illustrations. Once my show is over I really want to chill for a bit. I’ve been working mad hours to try and get everything organised. After I’ve had a bit of break I want to start thinking about doing a book, some more animation stuff and I’d really like to put on an exhibition in the US.
Polly Nor’s exhibition ‘Airing My Dirty Laundry’ runs from 12th-17th October at Protein Studios.