Polly Townsend British, b. 1977

  • Polly Townsend's paintings draw on solitary journeys through many of the most remote and hostile landscapes in the world. In... Polly Townsend's paintings draw on solitary journeys through many of the most remote and hostile landscapes in the world. In... Polly Townsend's paintings draw on solitary journeys through many of the most remote and hostile landscapes in the world. In... Polly Townsend's paintings draw on solitary journeys through many of the most remote and hostile landscapes in the world. In... Polly Townsend's paintings draw on solitary journeys through many of the most remote and hostile landscapes in the world. In...

    Polly Townsend's paintings draw on solitary journeys through many of the most remote and hostile landscapes in the world. In January 2023 she was the Artist in Residence in Antarctica. Other recent works come from Kashmir, Kyrgyzstan and artist's residencies in Death Valley and The Badlands National Park.


    Townsend’s paintings are a study of her physical and emotional response to vast wilderness. Townsend often treats the land as a singular subject, a still life, disembodying the form whilst remaining faithful to the original patterns, colours and light. This objectification helps probe the gap between the tender and the unnerving; the beautiful and the bleak. The use of titles and empty spaces emphasise the tension between absence and presence, reflecting on the current state of landscape: one of flux, impermanence and a challenging passage of time.

    Townsend produces small works on site using a collapsible easel, sketchbooks and photography, building up larger canvases in her London studio.

  • “As I move through the landscape, I often shift from feeling overwhelmed and disorientated, to a more meditative state. Far from being desolate, the landscapes slowly reveal an infinite variety of form, light, sound and texture.”
  • Works
  • Exhibitions
  • Biography


    1999-01 MFA Slade School of Fine Art, London, UK
    1996-99 BA University of Wales, Aberystwyth, UK (First Class Honours) 


    Curated Exhibitions

    2022 Crossing Boundaries, APT Gallery, London

    2022 A Wider Landscape, The Alpine Club, London


    Selected Exhibitions

    2023 SOLO: Feedback; Phytology, London

    2023 Sun and Moon,Spirit Studios, Suffolk

    2023  Hinterland, John Martin Gallery 

    2022 A Generous Space 2, New Art Gallery, Walsall
    The 3am Project, virtual exhibition,
    The Affordable Art Fair, London
    The Columbia Threadneedle Prize: Mall Galleries, London, UK 2018 Summer Salon: Angus Hughes Gallery, London, UK

    2017 The ING Discerning Eye: Mall Galleries, London, UK
    Glory of the Glacier: The Alpine Club, London, UK
    Summer Salon: Angus Hughes Gallery, London, UK
    2012 SOLO:
    Slower Than This: Flashpoint Gallery, Washington DC, USA 2012 Emerge Art Fair: Washington DC, USA

    2011 Wildland, Silber Gallery, Baltimore, USA
    2010 SOLO:
    Polly Townsend: British Embassy, Washington DC, USA
    Travelogue: Carroll Square Gallery (Hemphill Gallery), Washington DC, USA 2009 Options: WPA & Conner Contemporary, Washington DC, USA
    2008 SOLO:
    Polly Townsend: The Alpine Club, London, UK
    Gilchrist-Fisher Landscape Painting Award: Rebecca Hossack Gallery, London 2007 SOLO: Passing Through: 3 White Walls Gallery, Birmingham, UK
    Bomberg’s Relevance: Ben Uri Gallery, London, UK
    Journey of Exchange: Oxford House, Bethnal Green, London, 
    Winter Collection: Gallery Duncan Terrace, London, UK
    New Waves: Collyer Bristow Gallery, London, UK
    Mirage of Minds: Century Gallery, London, UK
    Mile of Art: London Fields, London, UK
    The Affordable Art Fair: New York, USA
    The Directors Choice: Collins and Hastie Gallery, London, UK
    London/New York Drawing Collaboration: Chateau Balleroy, Normandy, France 2001 New Bloomsbury’s 2001: Scarlet Maguire Gallery, London, UK
    Post-Graduate Show: Slade School of Fine Art, London, UK
    2000 SOLO:
    The Scapes: The Courtyard, Hereford, UK
    Winter Collection: Parkview Fine Art Galleries, Bristol, UK
    The Directors Cut: Parkview Fine Art Galleries, Bristol, UK
    Degree Show: University of Wales, Aberystwyth, UK
    1999 SOLO:
    Flesh: Hereford College of Art and Design, UK


    Prizes, awards and scholarships

    2022 Culturebox commissioned artist, University of Exeter
    2019 Finalist in Jackson Art Prize UK
    2008 Finalist in Gilchrist-Fisher Landscape Painting Prize, UK
    2001 The Slade School of Fine Art Duveen Travel Scholarship
    2001 The Princes Drawing School / Malcolm Forbes Foundation Travel Scholarship 2000 The Slade School of Fine Art Life Drawing Prize (judged by Paula Rego)

    1999 The Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers Award
    1999 The Sir Ben Bowen Studio Prize for Fine Art
    1998 The Contemporary Art Prize for Wales Studentship Award (judge Stephen Chambers)


    Residencies and expeditions

    2023 Artist in Residence Antarctica, Scott Polar Research Institute

    2020 Solo expedition, Iceland
    Artist in Residence Goldwell Museum, Death Valley National Park, Nevada, USA 2011 Artist in Residence Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA
    Solo expedition Alaska, USA
    Solo expedition Mojave Desert, USA
    Solo expedition Himalaya and Pamir Mountains, Ladakh, Kashmir
    Solo expedition Tian Shan and Pamir Mountains, Kyrgyzstan
    Solo expedition High Atlas Mountains, Morocco; and Tian Shan, Altai and Qilian Shan Mountains, China

    2006 Solo expedition Jotunheimen National Park, Norway
    Solo expedition Pyrenees Mountains, France
    Solo expedition Apennine Mountains, Italy
    Solo expedition Himalaya Mountains and Tibetan Plateau, Nepal, China 2001-08 Solo expedition Snowdonia National Park, Wales
    Artist in Residence, Arkleside Studios, Yorkshire
    Solo expedition Andes Mountains and Altiplano, Bolivia


    Reviews and Publications

    2023 Antaractic Times '30 ways to protect Antarctica'

    2023 Polar Bytes, SPRI, 'Polly Townsend, Artist in Residence'

    2022 Art in Embassies; Beijing, Catalogue
    Culture Box, Artist Spotlight: Polly Townsend
    Playjunkie: Polly Townsend’s Secluded Landscapes
    2020 Jackson’s Art Blog: Polly Townsend: Painting the Brutality of the Land
    Washington Post, An exhibit that stretches a mountain’s range by Mark Jenkinson 2012 Washington City Paper, Polly Townsend at Flashpoint by Louis Jacobson
    Mumbai Embassy Publication, Permanent Collection of the Consulate General of the United States

    2011 Catalogue, Wildland, by Laura Amussen

    2011 Catalogue, The Artists of the Alpine Club, by Peter Mallelieu
    Washington Post, Wild Worldviews of Summer by Jessica Dawson
    Washington Post, Options 09: Unexpected Possibilities by Michael O’Sullivan
    2009 The Georgetowner, Georgetown Answers Call for Artists
    Falls Church News, Options 09 by Kevin Mellema
    Catalogue, Options 09 by Anne Goodyear
    Artrabbit.com, Onwards and Upwards, Polly Townsend in High Places by Sarah Lightman

    2008 The Alpine Club Journal, Polly Townsend in High Places by Steve Goodwin
    The Metro Newspaper Birmingham, Sixty second interview with Polly Townsend
    Wowbirmingham.co.uk, The Extremes of Art with Polly Townsend by Dave Freak
    Hereford Times, Three White Walls
    The Independent, Bomberg's Relevance, P Chapman
    2007 Time Out, Bomberg's Relevance, JJ Charlesworth


    Public collections


    U.S. Embassy in Beijing, Permanent collection, Department of State, USA U.S. Embassy in Karachi, Permanent collection, Department of State, USA U.S. Embassy in Mumbai, Permanent collection, Department of State, USA National Parks Collection, USA

    The Alpine Club Collection UK The Ben Uri Collection UK

  • Artist Residence - Death Valley, USA 2011
    For one month I lived and worked in the national park making paintings en plein air and in the studio provided. The studio - a huge red barn, exclusively for my use -  opened directly onto the arid landscape of Death Valley. It was miles away from anything or anyone 

     My first day involved a close encounter with Death Valley's most venomous snake. I was lucky enough to be there in October when the weather is at its most forgiving. It was hot, sunny and clear most days and I was able to work with only a small 'heat break' in the middle of the day. 


    Each morning I went out by car to different areas of the park and then explored further on foot.  There was so much to discover and surprises around every corner. The biggest surprise was the variety of colour. There's an area called 'The Artist's Palette' - which certainly did not disappoint - and I saw these same colours repeated everywhere; tucked in crevices, leaching through cracks, or sprayed wide across vast landscapes. 


    I always took with me a sketchbook, a small set of paints and a camera. I discovered that the name of Death Valley is quite misleading; it is teeming with life; lizards, jackrabbits, coyotes, tortoises and many other creatures scuttled around. 


    Sometimes, in the afternoon, I would open the doors of the big red barn and paint long into the evening. This was my favourite time of day. There was a liminal moment when day turned to night and I'd pull up a chair and just watch. The colours were extreme, like the earth was on fire, but then I'd watch a cactus, so rich in colour and pattern, quickly switch into a silhouette and then, poof! the light was gone. I loved that moment; that switch! Darkness is truly dark in Death valley - it is a Dark Sky certified park. 


    At weekends I would sometimes drive to Las Vegas. I think my motivation was to cruise along the highways surrounded by the extraordinary landscapes. Each trip involved self-initiated 'diversions', just to see what was there. I think the desire to just 'see what was there' was my gentle pursuit throughout this residency - perhaps throughout my life. And almost always, what was there was not what I expected to find. 

  • The Badlands National Park, South Dakota

    For one month in 2011 I had the huge privilege of being Artist in Residence at The Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA. I was given accommodation/work space at the Ben Rifle Visitor Centre and ventured out each day in my 1976 VW camper van. The smallish, but perfectly formed national park, was an absolute wonder; teeming with wildlife and incredibly diverse in landscape it was a joy to explore.

    I had some pretty big adventures, from nearly being run over by a herd of bison, to shooting guns with cowboys, but I also spent a huge amount of time just sitting, looking and breathing-in the park. It never ceased to amaze and surprise me. Each day was thrilling. I would get up early - often before sunrise - to go out and discover the park as it was waking up. The colours would slowly develop, creatures would creep out and the air would warm. Between then and nightfall I would watch what seemed like an epic fight for survival; tiny plants pushing through cracked dry earth, ants weaving through enormous barren landscapes, and prairie dogs, scattering from their multiple predators. I had my own mini fight for survival too. I was worried that the van - notoriously unreliable - would break down on one of the empty dirt roads in the park, or on one of the very long drives to the nearest supermarket. I also found that being a single female in my conspicuous vehicle, or out and about with my paints, drew attention in ways that were not always pleasant. One of the biggest privileges of the residency was having the time to watch the park evolve. I was there on the cusp of a seasonal change, and surprise snowfalls gave way to immense heat and flowering plants. In the end, it was 'watching' that became the habit and, as sometimes happens on residencies, I didn't do a huge amount of painting. I drew and took lots of photographs but mostly I just sat and absorbed. The result is that it is one of the places most deeply etched in my memory. Certain forms, shapes and colours will probably remain in me for the rest of my life, and will undoubtedly seep out through my work over the years.