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Painter Polly Seip takes the long view

Published 02/15/2012 12:00 AM

Polly Seip doesn’t see the world through rose-colored glasses, but she does see it through a pair of lenses. Since 2003, the young artist has been creating an ongoing “binocular series” of long and narrow plein air paintings of the New England coastline that range in length from 24 to 51 inches.

Seip’s paintings capture the many moods of the sea — the prolific marine activity, the dramatically changing skies, the calm and restless waters as seen through her binoculars’ field of vision at various locations along the water’s edge between Niantic and Weekapaug Point, Rhode Island.

Seip began painting and drawing at a young age. “It was what I enjoyed and excelled at,” she says. “Art is in the blood in our family.”

Her sister, Sarah Seip of Ledyard, is a fine art photographer and co-owner of Four Starr Frame Shoppe in Stonington.

Although the coastline has always captivated Polly, there wasn’t a sailboat in sight during Seip’s years growing up in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. She says that despite living inland, her family always gravitated to the water and marine art hung on the walls of their home.

In 1994, at 17, Seip met renowned marine artist John Stobart while he was visiting the area, and was very taken with his work. Five years earlier, he had created the Stobart Foundation — which to date has awarded more than $375,000 in grants to art students graduating college. Each year, one grant is awarded to a student from the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts.

“John Stobart solidified my pursuing an art education,” Seip says. “He recommended Lyme Academy … and in 1995 I went to see the school and fell in love with it. It was the only school I applied to.”

After graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting, Seip chose to make her life in southeastern Connecticut.

“The art community here is very strong and well-knit,” she says. “And I’m able to live near the water. It was a meant-to-be.”

She currently lives with her longtime boyfriend and their two cats in Uncasville — where she also has her studio.

Birth of the Binocular Series

Seip says she originally wanted to follow in Stobart’s path and become a historical marine artist. She had a great appreciation for the very traditional and accurate work, but discovered, “it wasn’t necessarily me.”

“The historical marine community is very competitive and male-dominated. As a young female artist, I saw my chances of becoming successful as being so slim,” she explains.

And then. While living in Stonington, she lost 90 percent of her historical marine artwork in a house fire.

“My art shifted then. I took it as a sign of ‘not what I’m supposed to do.’”

For Christmas of 2002, Seip received a pair of binoculars as a gift. As a plein air artist, she says she always brought her paints and binoculars with her. Even in winter, she’d sit in her car with the sunroof open, looking out with binoculars and sketching.

Hence the “Binocular Series” was born, which Seip describes as “a contemporary series that marries marine art and plein air painting” — and in which she fuses historical elements.

Seip paints in oil on medium density overlay wood — the kind of wood that’s used for high-end sign painting and was recommended to her by a carpenter.

Regarding the narrow, long shape of her work, she says, “People seem to really like the format. It’s been a blessing in disguise,” pointing out that her paintings have progressively become larger and larger.

She says she never tires of this series or exhausts new directions and possibilities within its context.

“There is always something new to paint. Especially here on Long Island Sound where there’s a plethora of water traffic: boats and tankers. And I’m always experimenting with composition, size, time of day, light and atmospheric perspective.”

I’ve created my own little niche,” she continues. “I’ve always been impressed by artists, including musical artists, who created their own path and have been successful with it both professionally and personally. It gives you fuel. My greatest fear is to fall into a whole formulaic thing, succumb to a comfort zone.”

Seip says her goal for 2012 is to become a member of the American Society of Marine Artists, which, she notes, is predominantly made up of men and gaining entrance is very difficult.

“It might encourage other female marine artists [if I’m accepted],” she says.

Another one of her goals is to create a foundation to help financially support other artists.

Seip’s work has been displayed in numerous local galleries, and several regional galleries. She was represented by the Sylvan Gallery in Old Saybrook (relocating to Maine) and is now represented by the Cate Charles Gallery in Stonington Borough (860-245-5213) where her paintings will be on view during the annual Winter Exhibit that runs through March. You can also see her work online at www.pollyseipfineartstudio.blogspot.com