Polly Seip’s paintings stretch across horizons. They stretch across landscapes and seascapes, they stretch along coastlines and shorelines. They seem to stretch and dance and balance along the very edge of the world.
Seip is deep in the midst of what she calls her Binocular series. This series of paintings, started in 2003, takes her love of maritime art, with all its history and exactitude, and merges it with something contemporary, something fresh.
It’s a fascinating marriage, and has caught the eye of collectors and curators near and far. You can see her paintings at the Sylvan Gallery in Clinton, at the Cate Charles Gallery in Stonington, and also on Seip’s own website.
SEIP GREW UP IN PITTSBURGH. Her dad was a historian, who introduced her to the paintings of John Stobart, a maritime painter. (To see his work, click here).
In some of his writing, Stobart mentioned The Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts. Seeking to model herself after Stobart, Seip applied to Lyme Academy and in February 1996, was accepted.
After school - she graduated in 2000 with a bachelor of fine arts in painting - she steered herself toward historical marine painting, she says.
“I tried it for two or three years,” she says. “Then my direction with marine art shifted.”
Seip says she realized that she is “not a historian, like my dad. But I love the water, and I love being in the now.”
Sailboats tend to be really pleasing, she says, and approaching them as she approaches them now lifts the work out from under the exacting lens and limits of historical precision, and gives her freedom to experiment.
ONE OF THE MANY THINGS that distinguishes Seip’s work is her limited palette. She uses only these colors: titanium white, cadmium yellow, Windsor red, French ultramarine, permanent green and burnt sienna. Any color or tone that she needs, she mixes from these six colors.
Another is the elongated, panoramic shapes she uses.
The Binocular series is painted on something called MDO – medium density overlay – board, which she cuts to the shapes and sizes that she wants.
These shapes are very different from traditional work. In the Binocular Series, the pieces are many times longer than they are high. A work that sold recently at the Cate Charles Gallery was 2.5 inches by 18 inches.
This unusual shape gives Seip’s work a different look, and a much different feel. Sailboats perch on the horizon under a huge, lifelong sky. The atmosphere stretches out on the canvas with the kind of presence it has in real life.
When there is fog, or mist, or atmosphere, on these canvases that are so much longer than they are high, there is the feeling that you could touch that fog, see where it starts, and where the clear sky ends.
These are paintings of light and wind, as much as they are paintings about anything else. Sometimes it seems that the sailboats are just a way to show the wind, to show the sunlight, to show the fog.
“I’ve always had an affinity for light and atmosphere,” she says. “Growing up in Pittsburgh, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, you have this tremendous … atmosphere. We had beautiful skies. It built up into how I translate light into paint. It keeps that energy. It keeps the essence of the moment, in the now.”
Fog, mist, the deep shadows and colors of the Sound, these inform Seip’s paintings.
“I love the smokiness” of fog, she says. “Up here in Connecticut, you get that really great wonderful smokey fog that you don’t get to see in other parts of the country. I like it so much, it’s fun to paint!”
SEIP FRAMES HER WORK HERSELF, and the basement of her Montville home is filled with saws and sanders and everything a framer would need.
In one corner, framed paintings stand, facing the wall.
Some are from the Binocular Series. Some are older. Some are from a show she did at the Cate Charles Gallery, with her sister, Sarah Seip. “Flights of Fancy” was a series of paintings of signs, where birds had built their nests in corners and curves of the letters. The project made for lovely and fascinating paintings, and also brought attention to habitat, and how our environment has pushed at the natural world.
Some of the paintings in the basement are landscapes, and while some have the elongated form of the Binocular Series, others are square, about the opposite of the new work.
Seip says that if, after a while, the paintings have not sold, she turns them around, away from her. Sometimes, she discovers them again, and realizes that they are, indeed, finished – or that they need something.
THE BUSINESS OF ART has two edges. One is sales. The other is far more philosophical, far more ethereal.
“Anytime you sell a painting, it’s a firework in a night sky,” she says.
“But when the painting resonates with someone, that is far more gratifying than being able to pay bills with your art.”
But artists need to live on something. And so Seip has an idea - The Artist’s Spirit Foundation.
Her intention is to take a small percentage of funds from her own sales and put it toward helping artists of any age and any stage of their career.
“The inspiration for this,” she writes, “is deeply rooted in my longtime admiration and respect for the renowned marine artist, John Stobart, and his own wonderful foundation fund The Stobart Foundation.”
Right now, Seip is not in a position to fund the Artist’s Spirit Foundation, but the dream persists, and Seip seems determined to make it work, to make the dream a reality.
“We have a different wavelength,” she says, about herself and others who make art.
“We are able to reach out.”
Seip’s studio is in her home on Starr Road, Montville, and is open by appointment. Anyone who is seriously interested in seeing her work can email her at email@example.com.