By Mark Mussari
Kyle Polzin is a sell out. Everything he paints sells, and he is quickly becoming a sought-after and respected artist in the Southwest. From 2007 to 2008, he managed to sell every painting he produced for three highly reputable shows. In November 2007, he had his first major one-man show at Southwest Gallery in Dallas, where all 27 of his original works sold on opening night. The following year, he created a dozen paintings for a spring show at the Rockport Center for the Arts in Rockport, TX, selling all of them by the end of the first week. And in August, at Port A Gallery in Port Aransas, TX, all 12 of his new pieces sold by draw the night of the show.
How does the 36-year-old artist account for his stellar success? “I’ve been really fortunate to have the amount of interest I’ve received,” he responds. “I’m just happy people appreciate the craftsmanship and quality of work I’ve put into my art.” Obviously, a good number of collectors do. They are especially drawn to the seductive attention to detail that defines so much of the Texas native’s art, particularly in his warm, rich still lifes. And then there is the undeniable technical proficiency that emanates from each canvas.
Polzin was born in Cuero, TX, to a family full of artistic talents. “My dad majored in art in college,” he says. “He was always drawing.” As a child, Kyle recalls that he, too, was “always drawing and playing with clay, working with my hands.” His parents frequently referred to their son as an artist. “Early on I had that identity,” he says. “I knew that career was in front of me.” In addition, both of his grandparents were skilled carpenters. “My paternal grandfather worked in stained glass and built furniture,” he notes. “We were always building something together.” He adds that both grandfathers were “very meticulous” in their work, a trait that would surface in his own methodical approach: “I’ve always liked to take things apart and see how they work. I appreciate ingenuity.”
Eventually, his family moved to Victoria, TX, where Polzin attended Victoria College for an associate’s degree. “At that point I was slowly starting to get more serious about my art,” he says, nodding to the efforts of Larry Shook, his art teacher. Shook took a hard line with the then-uncommitted Polzin, prodding him to develop his nascent talents. In an effort to do so, and while still in college, the artistic youth decided to take a workshop in Austin with Dalhart Windberg, the established Texas artist renowned for his mastery of light and color. “I was
lready familiar with his work,” says Polzin. “That experience really solidified it for me. I knew I had to pursue it.”
After college, Polzin moved to Port Aransas, TX, where he began working in graphic and web design. To this day, his background in commercial art continues to help him: “I can sketch out art—in color—on the computer and can compose a scene using those computer skills.” He adds that he can take a photograph of a still-life arrangement and manipulate it to the point “where I know I want to take it. I try to eliminate the guesswork so I can be more efficient.”
Maintaining a friendship with Windberg, Polzin eventually worked up the nerve to show him some paintings. “He told me to bring him my work and he would criticize it,” he remembers. The budding artist began to recognize the influence of the old masters on his mentor’s paintings: “I would look at his paintings and wonder—what was the trick?” He soon realized there was no trick. “His idea was to paint like the old masters but find a technique to do so faster,” relates Polzin. Windberg employs a smooth canvas, enabling paint to fill spaces more quickly and increasing the overall luminosity. “I also use a smooth canvas,” explains Polzin. “It gives my work a sheen and enables me to achieve a high level of detail.” Through studying Windberg’s approach to art, Polzin feels he, too, has become “influenced by the old masters—especially Rembrandt and Vermeer and their style of lighting.”
Polzin points out that a good 80 to 90 percent of his paintings are still lifes; the rest are mostly landscapes and waterscapes, inspired by his early days growing up along the Gulf Coast. These equally deft paintings possess a somewhat looser style, and their perspective is surprisingly broad. It is the attention to detail in his elegant still-life canvases, however, that truly reveals the artist’s astute painterly eye. “I love getting into detail,” he says. “I like to get up close and capture patinas and surfaces.”
Compositionally, Polzin keeps it relatively simple: “I try not to clutter the scene.” Instead, he focuses in on his subjects, often filling much of the canvas with just one or two items. “I ask myself, ‘What’s a good way to showcase this piece?’” In many of his paintings, everyday objects appear bathed in a golden light, imparting a romantic and somewhat nostalgic glow. “I want my still lifes to look like a memory you are recalling,” the artist says.
In this sense, a narrative evolves when looking at Polzin’s canvases. A cowboy hat and spurs, a weathered duck decoy and shotgun shells, or a branding iron and worn work gloves—these ordinary items enter the landscape of memory when rendered in his quiet, pensive paintings. “My subject matter often has a masculine feel to it,” he notes. Yet he also confirms an attention to presentation and a careful rendering of fabrics or porcelain and glass surfaces, like a wine carafe or flower vase. The spartan settings, with their deep chiaroscuro and backgrounds in sepias and burnt umbers, set these objects in relief, both visually and thematically. “I highlight details to tell a story,” he says.
This nostalgic, narrative effect surfaces in a piece like BLUES KING, in which an electric guitar, an old amplifier, and a microphone stand out in relief against the somber tones and dark shadows surrounding them. “Those objects are not typically presented in that light,” says Polzin. The effect is arresting: The objects appear as they would in recollection, items once used but now abandoned to memory.
A similar quality pervades the textural painting titled THE PATH OF LEGENDS. In this piece, Polzin portrays old baseball memorabilia—vintage Americana. “I am fascinated with old things,” he comments, “with that era of metal and leather—that pre-plastic era.” The objects, revealing signs of use and time, rest on a striped baseball jersey. “I like to add cloth to create movement,” says Polzin. “It softens the painting.” Compositionally, this piece also offers a prime example of the artist’s spatial sensibility. The horizontal bat and the medley of textures in the assembled objects keep the eye moving around the picture plane. “The objects tell their own story,” he adds. “It’s neat to compose those pieces together as a whole.”
The artist maintains a studio in his home, which he says can be challenging as he, his wife, Leigh, and their two small girls are often home at the same time. “It can be tough to keep normal hours,” he admits. “So, I get a lot of work done at night.” He also confesses to being “always in a work mode, always brainstorming.” Fortunately he gets help from Leigh, whom he refers to as his collaborator. “We’re always coming up with new ideas,” he says. “I couldn’t do it without her.”
Perhaps the best person to define the appeal of Polzin’s art is his former mentor. “There’s a feeling in his work that’s easily identifiable,” observes Dalhart Windberg. “You can look across a room and know immediately that he painted it.” Windberg warmly recalls the burgeoning artist he first met many years ago: “I knew right off the bat that he had talent. You don’t run across it very often. He has a tremendous future ahead of him.” Those collectors who keep snatching up Polzin’s work would undoubtedly agree.
Legacy Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ, and Jackson, WY; Southwest Gallery, Dallas, TX; Port A Gallery, Port Aransas, TX; www.kylepolzin.com.
Scottsdale Art Auction, Scottsdale, AZ, April 10.
Coeur d’Alene Art Auction, Reno, NV, July 24.
One-man show, Legacy Gallery, Jackson, WY, September 10-16.
Featured in April 2010