The research for Neal Polallis’ Master of Fine Arts project was not done online or in a lab. The research took place unknowingly, before he began the program, as he worked in an inpatient psychiatric unit and simply lived his life.

Polallis’ current work focuses on schizophrenia, depicting the disease in the form of layered images. He uses digital and film photography and computer software to create his images which are often dark, featuring elements of familiarity while conveying a feeling of chaos.

Polallis is a Springfield native and earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts at Missouri State University 25 years ago. After undergraduate school, Polallis moved to Nashville, Tennessee where he worked in commercial photography at a job he described as “torturous.”

Polallis left the job after about 10 years and didn’t pick up a camera for three or four years. He moved back to Springfield, where he took a job at an inpatient hospital working in the acute stabilization unit. He frequently saw patients with schizophrenia.

“We generally saw people at their worst,” Polallis said.

Once while on the job, Polallis was assaulted by a man in a paranoid state. The assault prompted Polallis to begin entertaining the idea of going back to school to pursue his master’s degree.

His graduate work frequently draws from his past job at the psychiatric hospital, and his relationship with a family member with schizophrenia. Polallis said his work is very personal.

He said the impact of his experiences has been traumatizing at times, and overwhelming, specifically regarding his background raising a child with schizophrenia.

“Being a parent, you always want the best for your kids and it’s truly a helpless feeling,” Polallis said.

Polallis has channeled these feelings into the pursuit of finding answers and understanding. Polallis said he communicates and figures out problems visually.

“I was trying to figure out where my child was in this world that I couldn’t reach,” Polallis said.

To produce his images, he uses layers of effects and visuals to create the final product.

“I’ll layer effects but also horizons, interior and exterior, to give that duality — that uneasiness that things are identifiable yet they don’t make sense,” Polallis said.

Polallis’ goal is to raise awareness and destigmatize the disease for others while trying to make sense of it himself.

“It is treatable, it’s like any other disease and it takes diligence to keep it in check,” Polallis said. “There are times where things happen or it flares up but there’s a scale and we just always think of it in the most negative way because that’s what has been produced in movies.”

Sarah Williams, graduate coordinator of the master of fine arts and visual studies program, is on Polallis’ MFA thesis committee.

She describes Polallis as a hard worker, thoughtful, introspective and willing to experiment.

“I’m always surprised by what he’s trying to do — how he’s bending the boundaries of the techniques in order to explore and get to the heart of what interests him,” Williams said.

Williams said experimentation is what makes Polallis and his art unique. She said she’s impressed with what he is willing to try out.

“He’s not scared of something not working or a flop and I think a lot of times that will stop an artist, especially one that’s in an MFA program with an MFA thesis show looming,” Williams said. “But he never seems to let that affect the work that he wants to make.”

In May of 2020, Polallis will present his MFA thesis to a committee of four faculty members he has worked with throughout his time in the program. The graduate students will present their body of visual research as well as a thesis statement about their work.

Polallis said that he doesn’t necessarily call what he does “art.” Instead, he calls it work, but emphasizes that what he does is not a chore.

“When I work, I lose track of time,” Polallis said. “I get lost in my imagination. I’ve done that since I was little.”

Polallis’ work will be shown at the Springfield Art Museum beginning the first week of May.

Polallis describes his work as multi-layered and personal, which he equates to his experience with the disease itself.