Interview with Judy Polstra

Judy Leeson Polstra

Judy Leeson Polstra (photo by Leo Reinfeld)

Judy, your life seems to epitomize the life of a creative. Do you make your living solely from your art or do you have a day job? Are you an early riser or do you burn the midnight oil? How do you balance it all?

I have an 8-5 day job with a commercial HVAC company. I coordinate monthly training classes for our 250 technicians located throughout eight states. My title is “Special Projects”, which means I report to our two VPs and the CFO, working on various projects as needed. I also oversee a small team of three men who maintain our national contracts. Fortunately, I have great bosses and the office is less than five miles from my home/studio, and wonderful benefits. It’s not a “punishing” job and does not require me to take it home.

I’ve always been a VERY early riser/early to bed, and tend to require little sleep. Often asleep by 9 p.m., I’m frequently wide awake before 2 a.m. and remain so until evening. Early morning has always been my favorite, most creative, time of day

I can’t always balance it all. Sometimes my focus is more on my music, other times, visual arts. I don’t watch much TV so most of my non-day job hours are spent either with my music or art. My husband travels frequently and I never had children (except the furry type) so my time is my own. As the Buddha said, “I can sleep when I’m dead”.

Lipstick Lover by Judy Leeson Polstra

Lipstick Lover by Judy Polstra

I see that you started your bejeweled mannequin series after the deaths of your mother and grandmother. As a self-taught artist, what was it that drew you to other mediums (cakes, furniture, painting, etc.) Do you have a favorite?

I get bored doing the same “type” of art. I find much of my inspiration at thrift stores, looking for nothing in particular. Often if something strikes me as particularly funny, odd, ugly, or beautiful (in other words, makes me react in SOME way), I’ll buy it. Sometimes I incorporate items quickly, other times not at all, and they will be donated again. Inspiration can come from anywhere!

I don’t have a favorite medium. Lately I’ve been working on “clothes”. Some could be wearable, others definitely not. All have a theme of the working against the “aging process”. I’m 49 and I’m inspired by the onslaught of infomercials telling women about everything that is “wrong” with them as they age. Grrr.

We’ve been hearing a lot about “flow” recently when it comes to the arts. How have your experienced flow in your work?

When I have an idea, I literally will not rest until it’s completed. Recent works are more inspired by the media and world events (i.e. women and the aging process as referenced above; the VA debacle and “corporations as people” as in a recent installation titled “The System”). Both of these projects have been extremely time intensive, but I cannot stop until they are completed.

Your work is full of whimsy and playfulness and fearlessness. What would you say to the person who always wanted to paint or play the piano but is bogged down by a full time job?

I have one of those full time jobs. I guess it all comes down to how badly you want to express yourself. I have had some nice sales over the years, but never enough for an income. The idea of a “starving artist” also never appealed to me.

I grew up with a sick Mother. From the time I was 7 years old, we were told she was going to die soon. (She died 32 years later.) I’ve always felt that there is never enough time, or soon I will run out of time. Growing up in an atmosphere of “imminent death” made me never take time for granted. I was carjacked at gunpoint four years ago. A relative was murdered inside his home within the same time-frame. We never know when our time here is going to end. We should not fear impermanence (hence, my “fearlessness” you mentioned) — but embrace it and CREATE. Don’t worry about the “results” or the “acclaim”. To me there is nothing sadder than to die and never have tried.

Tell us about your “Go Play Project”? Do you see any changes in your piano playing as you record each new piece? Has your study of jazz piano influenced your classical playing and your art? If so, how?

Cathy, YOU inspired the idea of “Go Play”— casual practice/performance sessions complete with mistakes, page turns, works in progress, etc. As fearless as I am in my visual art, I’m more fearful in my piano/keyboard playing. I studied classical music from the age of seven. I was never exposed to jazz or improve until the last 2 years. There was no “improv” in my classical studies. It was very serious, intense, and one was NEVER to make a mistake. With that pressure, I could barely play in front of anyone despite my advanced level of playing (Rachmaninoff preludes, Schumann, Prokofiev sonatas, Beethoven, etc.)

Studying jazz has helped me loosen all of my playing quite a bit and ENJOY it, rather than worry about the mistakes. At this point, I don’t imagine composing. Instead I love studying some of the GREAT piano jazz masters like Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, and Fats Waller. The chords are massive, the leaps are multi-octave, and the time and key signatures are all over the keyboard. It’s a blast! (My piano coach for the last 20 years is not happy with my change in musical passion. It’s nearly cost us our relationship as mentor/student and friends. While I’m sad about the loss, I’ve had to let it go…)

As for the mistakes, they are “as the artist intended” — whether in music or the visual arts.

What’s next for you? Tell us about any upcoming shows or projects.

Armor Against The Aging Process

Armor Against The Aging Process by Judy Polstra

Musically, this month, October, I’m playing at a local Museum who is hosting a Mad-hatter Tea Party, to raise funds for breast cancer. I’ll be playing primarily stride (Fats Waller), some rag-time, and some miscellaneous jazz.

Art wise, in October, I’m in two shows in Miami and one in Fort Lauderdale. I’m applying for a grant for next year, applying to an adjunct show for Art Basel, and another show in Naples for January. (You don’t know if you don’t apply! I keep my rejection letters. You can’t take it personally, and sometimes, you get some interesting (even funny!) comments).


Judy Polstra is a self-taught artist with a passion for piano. Visit her at judypolstra.com, or follow her on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkdIn.

 If you (or someone you know) has made it a priority to incorporate creative play into daily life, I’d love to talk. Please contact me at catherine.shefski(at)gmail.com.

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