When watercolourist Phillip Pollack is surrounded by the greenery and warmth that come with a Florida fall and winter, his mind travels to a distant and very different landscape. Old memories of hiking resurface from his childhood as he remembers growing up in Iowa with his three brothers. Instead of palm trees, he imagines landscapes of arid trees that lie in wait for a snowy blanket.
While the scenes he paints from memory recall the rolling cliffs and forests of the Midwest, Pollack’s most recent works are a celebration of the scenes he photographs at St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge. In particular, he likes to show his appreciation for the tiny but potent variety of warblers.
“A big part of my intention in painting is to draw attention to and showcase the refuge,” says Pollack. “I want people to know about the shelter, see these paintings and be inspired by them. I also want to bring these Florida birds into the minds of people who love the refuge, and let them know that there are other birds besides the great eagles and egrets.
One of Pollack’s recent paintings, “Pine Warbler in Palmettos”, was chosen to be part of the Brush Strokes Tallahassee Watercolour Society Members’ Exhibition 2021. This annual exhibition is organized by COCA for the Art in Public program Places in the name of the city of Tallahassee.
Currently on display at the Town Hall Art Gallery, Pollack’s painting is one of 40 that cover a wide range of watercolor techniques and subjects. The physical and online exhibition is visible until November 15.
‘Celebrate the beauty of the refuge’
“Conservation is always a topic of discussion,” says Pollack, who is president of Friends of the St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge. “I use excerpts from my art in our newsletters. We talk about celebrating the beauty of the refuge and leaving only an imprint behind, not waste. It’s a delicate balance these days with climate change and development, and many of these species are not as important as they used to be. “
Nature and art are an integral part of Pollack’s life and career. In elementary school, he entered and won the Dubuque County and Iowa Fire Prevention Poster Contest and drew birds as a hobby. In college, he was a graduate assistant at the University of Iowa’s Museum of Natural History. Pollack’s museum experience allowed him to become familiar with the anatomical makeup of birds and other wild animals.
The Pollack family has always dabbled in art. He watched his father draw birds, and one of his older brothers was skilled at copying and drawing figures. When it comes to outside influences, he has always admired professional Iowa artists like Maynard Reece.
Reece is well known for his paintings, which focused on ducks and won the Federal Duck Stamp competition a record five times in his life. Mimicking Reece’s bird specialization, Pollack enjoys working with small birds rather than focusing on the great blue herons or egrets that dot the swamps of Florida.
Creation of microenvironments
“I really like toddlers,” Pollack says. “I try to put them in what I call microenvironments. When you see these large wading birds, they fill a landscape and overlook a pond or swamp. Warblers, you have to be low to the ground to see them and I show them in their microenvironment to get a larger idea of the refuge that recedes in the background.
Working at the end of his kitchen counter, Pollack draws a blank sheet of paper and attaches it to a piece of plywood. He pins photographs of the foliage and the bird he wants to paint, then rotates his canvas to approach the watercolor from different angles. He admits he used to rush to paintings when he was younger, but now it will take him several days or weeks to complete a work.
For “Pine Warbler in Palmettos” he took several photographs of the plants in the lower understory, as pine warblers tend to be found in these areas. In the background, he was sure to capture the distant landscape across the swamp. Pollack says he spends a lot of time working on a large scale to get the right birds.
“I create a design with the plants that I photograph and place this bird in situ more or less to show how this bird is in the real world,” says Pollack. “I do a lot of scaling and draw the bird in a number of sizes, then cut them out to position them in the work so that I know its size relative to the background.”
The birds are the stars
The result makes birds the star of each work, perfectly situated in their micro still life. While Pollack was teaching watercolor lessons at the refuge a few years ago, he met the new president of the Tallahassee Watercolor Society, Jennifer Lange. He decided to join and start officially listing his paintings in exhibitions.
In Pollack’s very first show with the company, he won the top award for excellence. He is honored to see his work hooked up with paintings by other talented artists in the current Brush Strokes exhibition and hopes visitors enjoy the variety of paintings.
“Tallahassee has such a talent for watercolors and a great diversity in terms of styles and quality,” says Pollack, who is grateful to be involved in the art community.
“Whenever I’m in an anguished state of mind, painting and visiting the shelter changes my mood, my expectations for the future, my celebration of life. I feel lucky to be doing these things and I don’t take it for granted at any time. ”
Amanda Sieradzki is the feature film writer for the Council on Culture & Arts. COCA is the Capital Region’s umbrella agency for arts and culture (www.tallahasseearts.org).
Never miss a story: Subscribe to the Tallahassee Democrat using the link at the top of the page.
If you are going to
What: 2021 Brush Strokes Member Exhibition of the Tallahassee Watercolor Society
When: 8 am-5pm Monday to Friday until November 15th
Or: City Hall Art Gallery, 300 South Adams Street
Cost: Free and open to the public