Twenty years ago, a short while after moving to Hudson, still-life artist Ken Polinskie realized he had a problem. It was a furry, four-legged problem that answered to the name Wilbur. "Wilbur was a little Jack Russell Terrier," recounts Polinskie, "and he would sit on my work desk all day and stare at me." The dog's unwavering gaze proved prohibitively distracting, so one day, he called his friend Donald McKinney for advice. "Donald," Polinskie said, "Wilbur's driving me insane. He just stares at me all day." And McKinney replied, significantly, "Well, why don't you stare back?"
This moment caused a sea change in Polinskie's artistic career. He did as his friend suggested and, almost over night, went from drawing neo-expressionist botanical pieces to sketching small mammals. "I started to look at the things right in front of me," he explains, with the goal of "clarifying their emotional context."
King of Clubs exemplifies Polinskie's most recent period and will be on display at Greene County Council on the Arts' "Playing with a Full Deck" exhibit in Catskill through March 1. Though the piece may look like a drawing, its lines are comprised of tiny brushstrokes. Polinskie created the pitaya-pink background, a look inspired by a French Renaissance technique called rosaille, by crafting and tinting the watercolor paper himself. Like Polinskie's other animal paintings, King of Clubs arises from a study of symbolism in imagery. "The humor in the image is that this tiny Chihuahua is a very grand figure," he says. "It's symbolic of when we overvalue ourselves, and yet the Chihuahua remains endearing because he has a lot of pride in himself."
Polinskie claims his earlier work lacked this emotional depth. During the height of his career in the 1980s, he painted "muscular flowers" in sweeping strokes. The flowers had movement and drama but, according to Polinskie, little or no symbolic significance. The New York Times purportedly described his floral figures as "automatous." Now, however, his artistic goals have shifted from mastering complex techniques such as pulp painting, in which paper itself serves as the medium, to arranging images with the power to "unhinge a literal emotionality" in viewers.
The "Playing with a Full Deck" exhibition is a fundraiser for the Greene County Council on the Arts, featuring a limited-edition deck of playing cards designed by 52 artists. A charity Texas Hold `Em poker tournament will be held on February 8 at 6pm and a closing party and auction will be on March 1 at the GCCA Catskill Gallery. Greenearts.org.