Painter, performance artist, founder and the only member of the organization Egocentrs, deft player of Zolīte card game, a mushroom expert, sculptor, installation artist, amateur of art history and theory, recently he has become widely known as a “court painter”.
But first of all Polis is a professional painter. In the 1970s, together with Līga Purmale, then his wife, he exhibited the first paintings created in the style of Photorealism. Yet he did not confine himself to only one style – among his works are paintings of Academic Realism, the so called trompe l’oeil technique, as well as of Primitivist and Symbolist styles. In the 1980s the artist started experimenting with performance, creating his most popular image – the Bronze Man. The artist appeared in the streets of Riga dressed in bronze suit, hat and shoes, his face and hands also being covered with bronze paint. After Latvia’s regaining of independence, Miervaldis Polis continues painting, focusing mainly on the genre of portrait.
“Polis is not only a singular figure in the Latvian context, his work is unique in general,” Amy Bryzgel writes.
“While comparisons between his work and other contemporary artists are possible, they invariably fall short. Associations can be made between Polis’s work and that of the photorealists of the 1970s, for example Chuck Close or Richard Estes, as well as artists from the 1980s whose work was entangled with the notions of identity and self-discovery, such as Cindy Sherman or Yasumasa Morimura. His playful approach to art-making, use of irony and humour, and innovations that push the boundaries of art might even warrant comparison with Marcel Duchamp. But thorough examinations of these comparisons only serve to reveal the subtle nuances that are distinctive of this artist. Polis is certainly not the first, nor the only man to cover his face and body in bronze and walk the streets of his city, but it is the precise manner, not to mention the political context in which he did so, that is noteworthy. While such connections may be tenuous at best, what these comparisons do reveal is the significant contribution that Polis has made not only to Latvian art, but to art history in general.”
Dr. Amy Bryzgel is an American art historian, a lecturer in History of Art at the University of Aberdeen (Scotland, UK); her speciality is modern and contemporary art of Central and Eastern Europe with a particular focus on performance art in the region. Amy became acquainted with works by Polis while working on her PhD dissertation at Rutgers University (USA) which is holding the Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Soviet Nonconformist Art – the largest collection in the world of Soviet non-official art. It includes also art works of several artists from Latvia, among them 28 works by Miervaldis Polis. From 2003 up till 2009 Amy lived in Riga working on her PhD, which included artists from Russia, Poland and Latvia. Identifying a gap in the literature, she decided to continue her research on Polis and develop it into a monograph. This book is the result of ten years of research on the artist, which included numerous interviews with Polis himself.