Polly Bosworth is a graphic designer and illustrator who moved to Copenhagen in 2013 and began working for Bang & Olufsen. Like moth to flame she was soon drawn to Bitchslap’s warm glow. After her recent exhibition at Affenfaust Galerie in Hamburg, Monique and Barnes sat down with her back in Copenhagen, broke bread and spilt a little wine in an attempt to find out more about her journey and experiences in Happy Land.
Words: Barnes & Monique
You grew up in Bristol, right?
Yeah, in the city, but I also spent quite a bit of time in Warsaw.
They call Bristol ‘Trip Hop City’. Were you nurtured on Massive Attack and Portishead?
Not really, I was too young for that scene. You could say I grew up on Barry White, but I didn’t understand it, I didn’t understand much at all at the time because I lived in my own little world as a kid.
Who introduced you to the ‘the Walrus of Love’?
My dad of course! From the ’60s onwards he loved going traveling around the U.S. and really got a taste for their music and culture.
My favourite early memories are of watching my Dad draw simple pictures with a big black felt marker pen which I would colour in.
Did he also inspire your interest in art and design?
Totally. He worked for the London Arts Council, but really was an artist who didn’t know how to push his own work.
I’m tired from dancing to the beat of that drum. I’m guessing your dad would take you around lots of galleries and museums, immersing his young daughter’s mind in the visual arts at every opportunity?
Not really. He took me to Dunkin’ Donuts and Ikea. In fact, the first art competition I ever won was at Dunkin’ Donuts. Despite winning a box of pink doughnuts with sprinkles on top it’s a pretty shit way to start off an artistic career.
Sounds perfect to me!
A creative urge has always been who I am, or a big part of me. My favourite early memories are of watching my Dad draw simple pictures with a big black felt marker pen which I would colour in. He really instilled in me a need to have colour everywhere in my life. My childhood could often seem gloomy and my dad was often culpable for those feelings. So our relationship has that contrast – he gave me so much happiness, as well as being responsible for so much shit in my teenage years.
So your style is the result of having a bi-polar and colour-obsessed mentor?
His method of drawing certainly influenced my style, but I studied art and have been drawing everyday since I was a teen. Eventually I got to a sweet spot where I could draw something realistically.
What were you drawing?
Both drawing and painting from live models but also some still life stuff. When I felt I was good enough I began to wander stylistically.
Which artists can you remember being interested in around that time?
I was fascinated by artists who combined their creativity with mathematical solution, so I focused a lot of my time studying the likes of da Vinci, MC Escher and Matisse. I found the French Impressionists significantly influential, especially Monet. Also Bernini with his breathtaking sculptures. There was something about Op art, Brutalist architecture and the willful act of never really conforming to what my professors wanted from me. It all kept me going. Otherwise I would go as far as say that old school hip-hop and soul performers, graffiti writers and skateboarders were all artists in my book and a source of great inspiration.
How would you describe the working method you use now?
Drawing and sketching is always the starting point, then a vector image. That’s essentially how I started learning graphic design, by tracing my Dad’s work in illustrator. At first I disliked the comic depictions of the characters he drew, but during the process I began to find them mathematically and visually ingenious. After I’m happy with the image I begin thinking about the printing process. I’m fascinated by printing in all its forms and the idea of improvising to get what I want.
Is it that improvisation that brought you to live in Copenhagen? That, and the weather.
It’s been beautiful today, not a cloud in the sky, but yeah, I came here mostly for the people and the security I’ve found in my life here, emotionally speaking.
I’m keen to understand what goals you have for your work, are you yearning to quit the day job and become a full-time artist?
At the moment I’m keen to get my designs on skateboard decks and I want to do it myself by screen printing them. So I have to find a blank deck distributor that I’m happy with and then learn the technique of applying the imagery onto the deck, get amazing at it and then get busy printing.
In preparation for Polly Bosworth, Inc.?
Nah, the goal is to be able to draw everyday and travel as much as possible.
Any trips planned in 2016?
Thinking of going to L.A. and San Francisco later this year and having a wander around.
And getting a bit lost?
Actually not really. I must say getting lost is one of my biggest fears, certainly in terms of my mind. If someone close to me were to die—it hasn’t happened yet, but—I’m sure I’d get too involved in the grieving process and lose myself within my mind. When I was visiting Louisiana I went inside a room with so many mirrors that finding a way out became an absolute nightmare.
You mean like Bruce Lee in one of the final scenes of ‘Enter The Dragon’?
Hahaha yeah kinda… it was nuts. It’s the same reason I don’t take drugs or drink too much, ‘cause that’s me losing myself and it scares the shit out of me.
I think if you’re in the right frame of mind and with good people there’s a recreational drug out there for everyone. Do you drink tea?
Of course! English Breakfast Tea or Yorkshire Gold are my favourites.
I’d say maybe one day we’ll all drink a mild psilocybin mushroom tea and laugh our asses off?
I do like the sound of being with your friends to share the experience. There’s a warmth to all my friends, and they’re not necessarily the happiest people around, but one way or another they know I think they’re the best people I’ve stumbled across in my life.
Which perfectly highlights the paradox for many artists, in that I do get the sense that despite needing many good people around, you’re not afraid of being alone.
I must say I do appreciate being able to close off everything, focus and appreciate things from another perspective. I excelled in mathematics at school, so I like to see the world in terms of layers, patterns and systems. That’s what really drew me to geometrical art.
A design for life?
Yeah, I guess.
I had been drawing penises in the notebooks of my colleagues. I now know I was wrong to think that it had become a commonly accepted occurrence.
I’m guessing this burgeoning confidence must be mirrored in your working life at B&O?
It’s probably the first job I’ve had that I really want to get out of bed for. The senior designer is a dude from Brooklyn and many people say I’m the mini female version of him. He used to do graffiti, still skates and listens to a lot of hiphop and soul, so I’m happy with the association.
A few weeks ago he asked me to attend a meeting to discuss my progress and really praised my work, but also suggested the amount of sexual innuendo I spread around the office was unacceptable. Admittedly I had been drawing penises in the notebooks of my colleagues. I now know I was wrong to think that it had become a commonly accepted occurrence.
So, you ready for one last question?
Drum roll please…
What’s your most embarrassing sexual experience?
Ha! Barnes you bloody perv! I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.
No way! I haven’t got the legal consent of all the animals and minerals that were in the room at the time.
Well, if I were to refer to one specific experience I’ve had, in a more abstract way, then I’d just say combine the Bitchslap ‘Girls Are Awesome’ poster coupled with The Blackbyrds’ ace hit—”Doin’ It in the Park”—and I’m sure you get my drift.
Shall we go home now?
Yes. It suddenly feels like the right time.