The Unholy Trinity

At her opening at Pilsen’s Plaines Project on Friday night, Polly Yates–a slight, pretty, dark-haired woman–blends into the well-dressed crowd, drinking wine, and eating crackers and hummus on the space’s lower floor. She’s dressed in black and mingles with only one or two guests at a time, often deep in conversation.  At first glance, there is little semblance between the quiet, young woman and the lively red and pink screen prints that hang in the gallery.

Each of Yates’ prints utilizes a rosy color palette that summons connotations of the youthful and feminine, confronting sexual subject matter using the imagery of “flowers, dog’s snouts, and cocks.” These three subjects are the substance of the “tri” in the exhibition’s title, “Trialogues,” a conversation among three.

The blossoming flower has long been a favored visual motif in reference to female sexuality. Think of the dancing goddesses wearing sheer floral dresses in Botticelli’s Primavera, or Georgia O’Keefe’s erotic flower paintings. For Yates, the flower bud reappears in this artistic tradition in the show, which she describes as “an investigation in female desire and the impossibility of its expression.”

Yates’ method of creating the prints is not impossible, but complex. The screen prints are made up of collages constructed out of photographs–mostly of flowers–taken by the artist, in addition to cut outs from science journals and botanical reference books. Most of the cutouts clearly resemble human sexual anatomy. Yates also uses spray paint, felt-tip pen, paint, and tape, assembling senses of disorder and movement. The strips of tape are a particularly interesting component of the pieces, often creating the illusion that the materials have been woven together. After Yates finalizes the collages, she prints the images onto paper. The final product, which consists of different fragments of images and materials, is intense and energetic, and by and large conveys the sense of both the passion and confusion of young female desire that Yates’ pieces aim to explore.

“I work in the exact opposite way to most printmakers,” Yates says in her statement. “Instead of taking one image and making multiples, I take multiples and create one image.” This past spring, after earning her Fine Arts MA at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, Yates travelled westward from her native London to Chicago for a residency at Spudnik Press. Although already a veteran collage maker, the residency was her first experience with printmaking, and she quickly became skilled in the craft.

Yates seems to have an aptitude for mastering and integrating different techniques, and she embodies the youthfulness and femininity that her work seeks to discuss. She speaks with a reserved yet enthusiastic demeanor about her recent experience and impressions of the Chicago art scene. “I enjoy Chicago so much,” she says. “You really get to know people.”

“For the Spudnik Press residency,” she writes, “I have been working with processes of doing and redoing, doing and undoing …by limiting myself to certain techniques, colors and imagery, I am trying to gain as much difference with repetition as I can.”

Many of the same images recur throughout the show, but each of the prints is unique, and experimentation in method and technique is present throughout, possibly an echo of the uncertainty of young sexuality. Perhaps another significance of  “Trialogues” is as a sort of “log” or record of “trials” that can be the stuff of a young woman’s early experiences with love.

Yates has infused her art with same young, feminine liveliness that she possesses, resulting in a show that is both aesthetically provocative and intensely personal.

The Plaines Project, 1822 S Desplaines St, Chicago, IL. Through Friday, October 19th. By appointment only, email