Polly Norton’s female characters are as 21st century as they come: fun-loving, unabashedly sexual, and doing whatever the hell they want—whether that is hanging out with devils, being devils, lazily sex surfing, or having some fun with lava lamps. The illustrator, who goes by Polly Nor, often uses nude and pastel hues to depict her characters, which seem equally vulnerable and strong. Each is drawn lovingly, but with a healthy dose of satire. And the savvy titles of her illustrations—“Nm Rly Wbu,” “Shh bby no more tears over fuckboyz” and “We In Luv And Live Very Fabulous Lifestyles”—underline their roots in the online world.
Norton graduated from Loughborough University in 2011, and since then she’s been commissioned by a variety of clients including Bloomsbury, Hunger, RWD Magazine and EMI Music. The 26-year-old artist from North West London has “always drawn, mainly women” she tells CH. Her recent work is hand-drawn by pen and then digitally composed, edited and colored. We caught up with the emerging artist to find out more in time for her upcoming solo exhibition “Sorry Grandma”, at London’s 71A Gallery.
What inspires your work, and why so many devils?
The devils represent the darker side of my characters. I collect a lot of old images of Halloween, as well as vintage devil posters and tattoo art. My dad also makes lots of devil masks and giant devil puppets; his studio is full of them. I guess, subconsciously, I inherited the devils from him.
Other than that I’m really into Japanese Shunga [erotica] and spend way too much time on the Internet, which has really influenced my work. Not to sound like a total creep, but my phone is full of screen shots of other people’s selfies, memes and break-up Tweets. I draw a lot of inspiration from them.
Your illustrations are also pretty sexual; what makes sex a good subject matter?
Sex is a subject matter that everybody can relate to and connect with on a very intimate level. The ease with which we are now able to access—increasingly hardcore—porn has become formative in the sex lives of young people, complicating an already very complex issue. This makes it a particularly relevant and interesting subject matter to me.
I also think the changing relationship people have with sex and images of sex is really interesting. Kids are learning how to be sexual from an industry that is created almost entirely by men, for male pleasure alone. Through this very warped representation of sex and relationships, young girls are being taught that they are submissive, sexual objects for men to leer over, use and control, and led to believe that their value lies wholly in how sexy they are. But then, to make things even more confusing, our society also teaches females that being too sexual is shameful and vulgar. We should look available, but not too easy; we should be flirty, but not too forward; we should have sex, but not with too many people and so on. I’m interested in discussing and reacting to these conflicting pressures from a female perspective for a young female audience.
What reactions do you hope to get from people seeing your drawings?
I find it really cool when random teenage girls comment “ME” or “SAME” when I post my illustrations online, because they are totally meant to be them. I’m glad they get it and can relate. Although having said that nothing can beat an occasional “OMG WTF IS THIS?!”
What do you think of the illustration scene in London at the moment?
I feel like there is loads of cool stuff emerging, not just in London but all over the world. Instagram has become a really useful platform for creatives to self publish non-commercial work and get it seen. I think it makes for much more exciting art, and following the development of lots of new young illustrators from all over the world is pretty cool. At the moment I’m really liking @Alainavarrone, @Cameroonwray and @filthyratbag.
Finally, what WILL your grandma think of the exhibition?
Unfortunately Grandma Barbara has been Googling me for a while now, so she has seen the worst of it. She’s a pretty cool grandma, but she hasn’t asked for a print for the mantelpiece as of yet… maybe one day.
Images courtesy of Polly Norton