The Enfolded Moment | painting by Oliver Polzin
Interview and writing by Christina Proctor
“I spend a lot of time out at La Tierra around sundown and there was a really particular lighting situation that I was trying to capture the feeling of,” says GVG Contemporary painter Oliver Polzin. “I don’t think I got the actual colors, but the feeling’s there.”
Polzin grew up in a small town in Michigan, engulfed by the pine-heavy, Nordic fixings of the Upper Peninsula. But he says his parents had some relics around the house—a woven blanket, a little adobe house–shaped incense holder with piñon, that became symbols, for him, of another place—more like another mental plane of existence. His mother, nonobjective painter and GVG Contemporary co-owner Blair Vaughn-Gruler, had lived in New Mexico in the 1970s, and his father, an architect, also liked the Southwest. Yet it wasn’t until he was a teenager, when his mother and step-father, artist Ernst Gruler, moved to Sedona, Arizona, that Polzin’s consciousness started to change.
“The desert was kind of a shock to my system,” Polzin reflects, “but I felt ultimately really comforted by that desert once I got over the initial awe. It was like there are so many beings here—little friends, from grass and cacti to coyotes and rabbits. It’s actually a very alive place, maybe more than the northern woods in some way.”
Having completed a BFA in Painting at Arizona State University in 2009, Polzin never went back to the woods. Instead, lured by the high desert on the other side of the continental divide, he moved to Santa Fe. Over the last several years he’s incorporated new media into his repertoire, from gouache to digital animation to carpet and cardboard in addition to paint, and yet he continues to explore what he finds in the natural world and how we connect with it. Magic, the psyche, and psychological archetypes—both in people and in nature—take residence in his work.
In The Enfolded Moment, Polzin is engaging in an interesting crux of traditional art making. While we refer to plein-air painting as something done live in nature from direct observation—and indeed that is something Polzin likes to do—this painting came from a mental image, a feeling, really, that Polzin witnessed in nature (and arguably not within himself). This was the feeling of a singular moment that occurred while he stood gazing out at La Tierra’s landscape, wherein “the sky and the earth were melding for a few minutes,” he says.
Polzin did in fact paint the piece outside, during the Canyon Road Art District’s 12th Annual Paint/Sculpt-Out last month, while visitors passed by, doling out encouragement and suggestions as he painted a scene from memory. The result is a spirited-seeming landscape with a log in the foreground that seems to animate and connect with the sky’s colors as it ages and, above a wall of rock, a tree that trembles into the horizon. “The tree is interestingly situated,” Polzin says, “the way it kind of holds the Earth to the sky is a way that, physically, that unity I was trying to capture is expressed.”
Polzin describes that “feeling” as fleeting, as if nature pulled the curtains back on a performance that was beautiful and short. “I feel so enchanted by some of these New Mexico moments,” he adds. “Sometimes I’ll witness this kind of thing and it’ll just stick with me for days or weeks. It will kind of color my whole deal. I think a lot of people experience that out here. New Mexico is such a strange place and those golden hour moments are really remarkable.”
The result is a painting done from mental recollection of a fleeting glimpse. “There are ways in which the landscape speaks to you through assembled moments, I think, where an aesthetic crystallizes,” Polzin says, recalling perfectly choreographed sunsets and moon-rises in Sedona that left him altered. “There are these moments when nature is just saying: Here is this moment. It’s the key to how you understand all the other moments,” he says.
Polzin used gouache to execute the piece, which he says is a flexible medium because it can act like watercolor, acrylic, or oil paint. He can use the paint wet, onto an already wet or over a dry painted surface. This allowed for him to create significant layering in the piece—a nod, perhaps, to the underlying channels of connectivity between the live juniper tree and the log in the arroyo below (as Polzin points out, it’s life as a tree may be over, but its matter is still very alive).
In the past Polzin has done a series of paintings in different media that express different human and psychological archetypes, which also correspond with the chakra system. Lately, he’s drawn more to plein air painting and what we might call imagined realism—like The Enfolded Moment, painting from observation of a real place and point in time, yet based on a psychological imprint of that. He’s had three former shows with GVG Contemporary, both solo and in concert with other painters. One of these was with his mother, Vaughn-Gruler. Polzin’s figures represented a range of psychological, archetypal figures in representative environments. The exhibition was titled Dimensionality in reference to both the physical properties of paint itself (as in layering described above) and the psychological dimensions of Polzin’s subject matter.
At the time, he explained, “My use of oil paint is caught between the representative, the symbolic, and the visceral body of the medium itself. That is, always with a healthy understanding of paint as paint, and ground as ground. With that in mind, I want to explore the ways in which one can collage memories and understanding of space and time into one plane.”
That was back in 2013. Since, Polzin’s artistry has evolved through an explosion of new media use that has sprung well off the canvas plane. He’s been involved with Meow Wolf since the multimillion-dollar art installation enterprise was merely a group of friends throwing basement parties and art shows in Santa Fe. Along with his older brother, technology integration wizard Zevin Polzin, he helped design and build the group’s first permanent exhibition in Santa Fe, The House of Eternal Return. Now a full-time artist with Meow Wolf, he’s focused on upcoming exhibitions in Denver and Las Vegas, and yet the two-dimensional, far more personal artistic plane of the canvas still has him hooked. Over the years, the fundamental ideas of this young painter have remained, and he’s still after that idea of compressing space and time—of bringing into the now those fleeting, spirited moments in nature that can so transform us.
Get in touch if you’re interested in The Enfolded Moment, gouache on aqua board, 15 x 12.5 x 2 (framed), $1200