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You might recognize artist Heather Polk’s singular aesthetic from our winter 2021 issue. She’s a Chicago-based marketing pro by day who has an active art practice centered around collage and abstract painting that fills her evenings and weekends. She hopes to one day open an art studio offering programming to those suffering from chronic disease so that they and their caretakers can utilize the empowerment of artistic creativity as part of their disease management. We caught up with her about why she believes art cures all, how being creative is an act of activism and self-care, and more.

Illustration by Heather Polk

You believe art cures all. Can you talk more about that?

“CURES” is an acronym for Creativity Unleashed Rewards Every Soul. I believe in the power of creative expression. Whether you are observing art, making art or working on some creative project, the stimulation to our senses from art and creativity usually lifts our spirits, tugs at our curiosity and brings us joy. I’m partial to the potency of people creating with their own hands. Creating with our own hands is part power and part vulnerability; it’s important to see the power in being vulnerable.

Art is your side hustle. How do you make time for creativity?

I have been deliberate about my art not being a hobby or a hustle. I invest a lot of time in learning about quality materials and contemplating the ways I want to expand my art practice. The time I give to my art making — after work and on weekends — a lot of people spend watching television or pursuing other interests. I go to my office/studio, turn on some music and create. Creating is a priority for me and a part of my self-care routine. 

What are your studio must-haves?

Music; I like to listen to a variety of music while creating. I use X-ACTO knives and always keep blade refills close by. My scissors are important, too. My favorite glue is rubber cement. I love all the magazines that I collect, and I’m appreciative of all the people who save their magazines for me. I use decorative paper to add depth to the imagery; Arches and Strathmore are my favorite heavyweight paper brands. And I recently purchased some pigment sticks that I’m excited to experiment with for mixed-media pieces.

Where do you draw inspiration from for your inventive collages?

The inspiration for my art is personal experience, curiosities and a desire to create work that is uplifting, particularly of Black bodies. I want my art to leave an indelible mark on your mind about Black beauty. Lastly, I love magazines; flipping through the pages stokes my imagination and I love remixing what I find. 

Do you consider your creations acts of activism?

I am not purposely creating as a form of activism, but creating is a form of activism. Regardless of your subject matter, believing in your idea and putting in the work to make it come to life is still pretty radical. My work sometimes addresses topics that can feel like activism, but it’s me expressing my perspective on a subject or idea.

How has your artwork evolved over time, especially in the past year?

In 2020, my work was steady and constant. I am more curious and confident in 2021 and want to explore some ideas with a mix of media. I am thinking bigger might be better for some of my ideas, but I love paper and can’t see myself ever abandoning that medium.

What has it been like to have your work featured in top publications like New York Magazine, the Washington Post and Artful Living?

Seeing my work featured in a few top publications this past year was both humbling and affirming. I was so appreciative for the opportunity and recognition. It was a confidence booster in a way — not one I’m dependent on, but one that says my work can thrive and be enjoyed on a larger platform. I started making art solely for myself. I was caught off-guard when friends started requesting to buy originals or purchase prints. The icing on the cake is that other people enjoy my art as much as I enjoy making it. 

What emotions do you hope to evoke with your art?

Optimism and hope. I want people to see power and beauty in my art. I hope people are inspired to create with everyday materials they might easily have at their fingertips and value their creation.

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