Multiple Dan’s Papers cover artist Daniel Pollera’s “Inside Looking Out” is a luminous, mahogany-toned 30” x 40” still life whose dark wood interior opens out on a cold, red-streaked sunset sky. The geometry of the windowpanes reinforces the sense of being protected and inside. A shelf bathed in winter light holds a starfish, a shell and bottles, keeping the memory—or promise—of summer in mind.
Pollera is best known for his outdoor scenes—he’s the artist behind the authentically executed oils of 19th and 20th century South Shore bay houses that sit on posts above the salt marsh. His paintings pay homage to Long Island Traditions, the arts organization dedicated “to document and preserve the living cultural traditions of Long Island’s ethnic, occupational and architectural heritage.”
Close observation reveals connections between the cover painting and Pollera’s trademark works. “Inside Looking Out” is the inside of one of Pollera’s iconic bay houses, and the beach objects on the window sill make it apparent that what’s outside is Pollera’s beloved sea. Pollera was born in the seaside town of Freeport. Thirty-eight years ago, he obtained a Captain’s license from the U.S. Coast Guard and started a charter boat business.
What made you decide to “go inside” for this painting?
The inspiration came from a photo I took last year, early winter, inside the Stenzel Bay House, which sits on Scow Creek in Baldwin. Ryan Stenzel, the owner, inherited the house from his grandfather William. It is one of the original bay house structures, built around the 1920s. Old boards and beams are still visible inside this old house. I loved looking out at such a beautiful view at the early winter sunset, with bottles and a starfish silhouetted. The painting now lives in a Southampton home.
You note that you are self-taught, but can you talk about how your career developed, particularly studying commercial art at SUNY Farmingdale?
I went to Catholic school, and in the 4th grade the nuns would get about 30 kids together every Friday for art classes. They’d put up a picture and we’d have to copy it. What they considered the five best would be put on exhibit. Well, every week I was in that group, the only boy, so I figured that I was different and that got me started. In high school [Valley Stream] I took every art class they had, and I often went to another school for more. I did well. I had a good eye. I studied commercial art at night for a year at SUNY Farmingdale because, well, that’s where the jobs were.
When I went on a job interview, the interviewer was more distressed than I was, telling me how rough the field was and how I’d better be committed. I wasn’t. I did wind up working in a sign shop for a few years, and also working for my father in construction, but once I got out to the East End I fell in love with the water and all things maritime, and I started painting, first in acrylic, but oil seemed richer to me. Nowadays I’m loosening up more, doing more layers, glazes. I’m fortunate in not only doing what I love but in getting commissions to keep doing it.
How does photography inform your work?
I love playing around with a camera, which I use basically for information. Who can remember all we see? Maybe the image inspires me, but creativity is at the heart of what I do on canvas, adjusting for color, composition, other values. Lately, I’ve been doing something else, though, something I stumbled on a couple of years ago: cutting out sections of an image and painting on it, or using multiple photos. I like the effect. I can use the image and create a whole new background. However, “Inside Looking Out” does not use any photographic images.
Pollera has paintings in the collections of The Parrish Art Museum and the Guild Hall Museum. His work has been carried by Sheldon Fine Art in Newport since 1997 and in the owner’s galleries in Naples and Saratoga. Visit danielpollera.com.