OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Holly Popielarz

Definitive Actions, 2015. Detail. Mixed Media.

HOLLY POPIELARZ's whimsical sculptures juxtapose play with "the uncontrollable harshness of reality." In interactive spinning wheels, she addresses the anxiety of decision-making, while other static works featuring flags are a definitive expression of challenging emotions like anger and longing. Holly earned her MFA from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston and is currently teaching drawing at Rhode Island College in Providence, Rhode Island. She has been a Lending Artist for the deCordova Corporate Art Loan Program since 2013. Her group exhibitions include shows at artSTRAND in Provincetown, Massachussetts (2014), New Bedford Art Museum (2013), The Vault Gallery at New Hampshire Institute of Art (2012) and Hudson D. Walker Gallery in Provincetown, Massachussetts (2012). Holly lives in New Bedford, Massachussetts.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What is the role of play in your practice?

Holly Popielarz: My number one material/technique is play. I try not to be too serious with art, and I aim for a lighthearted aesthetic. Making things must be fun and challenging, otherwise it’s boring. Juxtaposed with play is the uncontrollable harshness of reality. Games and play, where I look for inspiration, distract us from that. Play is similar to the physiological idea of flow, a term coined by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. Simply put, flow is when you are in the zone during any given rewarding, intrinsic activity. Whether I am thinking, drawing, painting or building with more structural materials, my favorite moments are when I am so into what I am doing, playing so freely with materials, techniques and my thoughts, that new ideas emerge. Play solves the challenges in specific pieces, and I have fun doing it. That’s good advice to remember.

Bullseye, 2015. Mixed Media. 4 x 7 x 5 inch

OPP: The titles of your recent sculptures refer to common cliches that humans dole out when trying to make sense of emotional experiences. I’m thinking of The Grass is Always Greener, Out of Nothing Grass Will Grow and Wise is She Who Lets it Sail On, all from 2015. Tell us about this work and how you choose titles.

HP: Selecting titles for art is difficult. I choose based on what is happening to me during the time of the construction and the final look and feel of the piece. The title usually is found after the sculpture is completed, but during the build I am asking myself what I want to say about what I am dealing with, and how does it relate to what other people experience? With these three sculptures, I set myself the challenge to make them look like they were formed effortlessly with little thought or fuss over everything. I selected cliche phrases or proverbs for the sculptures as titles in order to attach a narrative as a way in for the audience. The phrases are maybe not universal because all cultures have their own words of wisdom. But these titles are cliches that western people say when they are either giving advice about accepting a current situation or mutter to ourselves as reminders that this is what is available to us. I think of these sculptures as trophies.

Mad Enough To Spit, 2015. Mixed Media. 8 x 3 x 14 inch

OPP: How do you think about chance and coincidence versus control in your life as a human? How do these concepts show up in works like Definitive Action and The Wheel of Hope and Dread?

HP: I think the only control we have in life is the choice of continuing to participate. . . in whatever is in front of us. Without participation, without  “spinning the wheel” or “playing the game,” there is no opportunity for chance or coincidence to make its way around to you. The element of play encourages us to press on, accept and not regret the past, understand the present and foresee the future. Giving up on the game leads us to paralysis and stagnation, which for some leads to boredom, depression, and a foreboding sense of failure. I find it a paradox that sometimes the fact of participating leads to rejection or failure, but in order to overcome failure we have to continue to participate. Best to keep pace. This clarity comes from loads of rejections, emotional stress, conversations, research and reflection about chance and fate itself. Some days there is only fog, and I am just angry at another rejection. On a personal level the wheels are responses and coping mechanisms. But the wheel of fortune is a universal symbol uised throughout history and across cultures as a method for understanding fate. In Roman mythology, Fortuna with her wheel was the goddess of Luck, Fate and Fortune. William Shakespeare, too, incorporated Fortuna and her fate-controlling wheel as a metaphor for the fickle ebb and flow of luck and fate. Medieval tarot decks feature The Wheel of Fortune. Buddhism has the Wheel of Dharma. Across cultures and history the wheel is seen as a tool for both understanding of and distraction from tragedy.

Wheel of Hope & Dread,, 2016. Video

OPP: Does the wheel of hope and dread always end up on hope?

HP: The wheel of hope and dread does not always land on Hope. There is a just as much a chance to land on dread. The day I made the video clip on my website, I was just luckier than some days. Other days dread is circling above. I do think of rigging some of the wheels to control the outcome. Not sure if that is the “right thing to do.” I wonder if it’s fair, but I also ask myself, do I care if the participants of my sculptures get a fair chance?

Rolling City, 2012. Castors, paint brushes, sticks, styro-foam, paint, papier-mâché. 12 x 16 x 10.5 inches

OPP: Earlier works—Car (2011), Cement Roller (2012) and Rolling City (2012)—involve a different kind of wheels. Is there a connection?

HP: I like wheels; they are a symbol of progress, movement and play. However there is no intended connection. The series that includes the sculptures, Car, Cement Roller, Rolling City evolved at the tail end of graduate school. I was thinking a lot about the human impact on the environment from our industrialized world. I was using economic materials, paper mache, card board, toothpicks, plaster, and acrylic paint. I was into a bric-a-brac method of construction because of my funds and really into the idea that materials can communicate and reinforce content. I doodle a bunch and during the creation of this work, even more so. While doodling, I would pick a culprit—a car, a cement roller, a cesspool, or a city itself—to reinvent and build. I thought of them as salesman samples. In the early 20th century, salesman needed portable versions of their products to show off to retailers. Most of these works have a carrying case, too. But each item pollutes our air, changes our surroundings, or is a product of our careless industrialization.

Wise is She Who Lets it Sail On. 2015. Mixed media. 14 x 5 x 12 inch

OPP: What materials you are drawn to repeatedly and why?

HP: Sculpturally, I love papier-mâché, and the way it makes me feel like a kid, I enjoy wood because of its additive and subtractive qualities and its connection to the natural world. Paint changes the surface and adds color and helps reinforce my interest in games, carnivals and sign painter aesthetics. I collect stuff—paper, shiny things, little pieces of unique wood scraps, plastic bits, metal doodads, ceramic parts—that I store for a later use. These materials are free, found and personal; each has a story. For example, a good friend gave me that ceramic piece for the “boat” in in Wise is She That Lets It Sail On. I didn’t know it was a boat at the time. He found it on a beach walk in Provincetown, Massachusetts. He gave it to me in my last few days of work at a wonderful place in Provincetown, and I was sad to see my time there to be over. I knew I wanted to use it in a sculpture someday. Then one day by playing with the strange odds and ends in my studio, I placed it on the red shelf that I had been working on. . . and I saw a boat peacefully sailing away. The boat is often a metaphor used in psychology as a way to compare human functioning and our journey through life. This ceramic piece is not altered at all only set snuggly into that hull made of museum book board, I didn’t change it, so that the viewer can wonder were it is from and where it is going.

To see more of Holly's work, please visit hollypopielarz.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia created site-responsive installations for two-person show Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work was recently included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.