Polly Nor is famous for her sharp and insightful digital illustrations about womanhood, inner-demons and the way our mind can play tricks on us in our digital day and age. Her knack of getting inside of all of our heads, and illustrating our struggles, insecurities and sometimes irrational behavior is particularly striking. What you may not know, is that Nor is a skilled multi-disciplinary artist, and after reading this interview, you will assertively agree that she also stands out as one of the most important and contemporary female voices in the art world today. 

How would you describe your style of illustration?

I never really know how to answer that question. Usually if I meet someone and they ask me what kind of art I make I get really awkward and usually just end up just showing them a picture.

Who are your artistic influences?

Both of my parents are very creative and have definitely had an impact on my work. My father is an artist and designer who lives in America, he makes a lot of devil masks and puppets and is really into outsider art and Mexican and Brazilian folk art, which I think has also influenced me and my art style. 

When I was growing up my mum made mirrors, sang and played the sax and flute in a band. She introduced me to most of the artists that I knew of as a kid like Cindy Sherman, Louise Bourgeois, Jenny Saville and Frida Kahlo, who all have all influenced me and my work in different ways. Back then before the days of Instagram and Tumblr it was much harder to come across the work of young upcoming artists, whose work i could relate to, so I spent a lot of time on Myspace searching for it, I remember coming across graffiti artists Fafi and Miss van. 

I really looked up to them for managing to make a name for themselves in the illustration and graffiti scene which was really male dominated at the time. These days, thanks to Instagram, I’m always finding new artists that are creating work I find really exciting, some of my favourites at the moment are Joy Miessi, Shadi Atallah, Melissa Kitty, Brecht Vandenbroucke, Monica Kim Garza, Tschabalala Self and Nina Chanel Abney

You’ve previously said that your best work is inspired by your own inner turmoil. Are you a tortured artist? 

 Haha I guess I have some of the traits of a tortured artist. I first was diagnosed with depression when I was In school and I’ve had a lot of ups and downs since but these days I try to channel that energy in to my work. Drawing has definitely helped me through a lot. 

There seems to be a love-hate relationship between your subjects and their demons. How come? 

I enjoy using the devil characters to represent different ideas and narratives each time, so the role and symbolism of the devil switches a lot. Generally, I intend them to be a figment of my character's imagination; a devilish manifestation of her frustrations, fears and insecurities. Kind of like with an ‘inner critic’ my female characters have to decide if they are going to treat their demons as an enemy and fight them, or accept them. 

In a lot of your work, your subject's skin is depicted as a removable costume. Are we all demons deep inside?

I wouldn’t say we are all demons. But we’re all dealing with our own struggles.... So I would say we all have our own demons. Just some people are better at hiding it than others.

Your illustrations portray one’s inner turmoil in a very visceral and straightforward manner, and yet there’s an underlying hint of humor. Is this intentional? 

Yeah I think there is a real mix of darkness and satire in there. We live in bleak times and so that’s reflected in my drawings but I like to let my audience come up for air. I’m a very cynical person but I like to have a laugh too.

Instagram in particular has been a great vessel for artists to put their work out there. How does an artist transition from showcasing their work on social media to actually making a living from their art?

It’s been such a great tool for putting my work out there and connecting with other artists. However, it’s important to remember that followers don’t pay the bills, and with brands constantly trying to pay artists with ‘exposure’ it can be hard trying to survive as a freelancer even if you have a large following. 

That’s why I decided to set up my own online store where I sell my own prints, t-shirts and pins. 

I would recommend any artists reading this to think about doing the same. There are loads of web hosts that are free for beginners and that are really easy to set up and use. I started off by selling just a small run of prints, which worked well because you don’t need to have a lot of money to invest and you can even start selling on a preorder basis. 

What is the current situation for women illustrators nowadays? 

Thanks to the internet and social media, we are no longer totally dependent on elitist galleries representing us for our work to be seen. Anybody can now use Instagram and twitter to share their work, curate their own online galleries, connect with their own audience and sell their work themselves. 

Art is now becoming much more accessible both for the viewer and for the creator. Because of this we are seeing lots more female, non-binary and artists of color emerging. I think it's making for a much more exciting art scene. 

Your work focuses a lot on internet addiction and social media’s impact on a woman’s self-worth and identity. If you were to change the social media climate in favor of women, what would you change?

A lot of my work is inspired by the way my generation behaves online, the exploration of self-image and identity and the anxiety behind it. However, I don’t think the problem lies within social media alone. I think a lot of it comes down to the way that women are conditioned to believe that our value lies wholly in our physical appearance and how well we fit a very narrow ideal of beauty within our culture. 

We are taught from a really young age that a woman must be beautiful to be worthy of happiness, kindness and love. It’s not a problem that Instagram has created, however I definitely think the way we use Instagram reinforces this status quo. To counteract the ever-present focus on beauty in my timeline I try to follow artists, writers, activists, musicians, comedians and alternative publications that focus on the thoughts, feelings and talents of women instead of just physical appearances. 

Some of the accounts that I like to follow to keep Instagram a happy place for me are: @yesikastarr @polyesterzine @filthyratbag @hanecdote @brigid_elva_d @kraejiyaeji @florencegiven @isabel_greenberg @sarahsitkin @saraandreasson @galdemzine and @bbz_london And on twitter: Munroe Bergdorf, Slum Flower, Ayishat A. Akanbi, Kelechi Okafor, and Celeste Ng.

Morphing photo apps, that allow you to change your entire physiology before posting a selfie, are flourishing. In your opinion, can they have a negative impact on society?

As a girl with a long history of thirst trap pics, dating back to the Myspace days, I get the appeal of these apps. Everybody wants to have nice photos of themselves. Posting a hot photo online and watching the likes roll in can act as a quick confidence boost. 

But I think the non-stop stream of filtered selfies must have a really negative affect on our brains. When we’re continuously consuming these carefully selected and digitally enhanced images of Instagram models, our mates and even ourselves, we are setting unrealistically high standards of beauty to hold ourselves up against. 

Our social media identities are slowly becoming real-life avatars. In your opinion, is social media edging towards virtual reality?  

We are already creating a very warped but carefully contrived narrative of our lives so yeah we’re probably headed that way. 

What’s next for Polly Nor?

I’m currently working towards my third solo show ‘Airing My Dirty Laundry In Public’ at Protein Studios in Shoreditch, London, this October. I’ll be exhibiting a new digitally illustrated series, as well a full collection of hand drawn illustrations, new sculpture work and an immersive installation room to explore. 

This new body of work tells stories of maternal instincts, toxic relationships and the importance of female friendship. Interweaving themes of identity, sexuality, love and the struggle for self-acceptance. 'Airing My Dirty Laundry In Public’ opens on the 11th of October 2018 and is open to the public from 12th-16th of October.


ArtEli Rezkallah