I was featured on Burnaway.org.
Anna Podris in Raleigh, North Carolina
by Shana Dumont Garr / August 18, 2015
Anna Podris, Ghost House, 2013, encaustic and mixed media on panel.
A painting can be so many things. It may reassert the materials and the process that went into its making, or act as an illusory window, providing a three-dimensional view into a world we already know. It may suggest things that are impossible to say, or haven’t yet been thought to say, with words. A painting may also create a unified view into an alternative universe, a portal to a place of daydreams and magic. This is the case with paintings by Anna Podris, an artist based in Raleigh, NC, who works primarily in oil and encaustic, and whose art presents a place where animals inhabit as much space as people.
Podris’s website offers a tantalizing list of the subjects she paints: fish, birds, owls, dreams, and nature. Dreams could cover any of the other categories as she envisages each subject through the lens of her own whimsical style. Her scenes have the effect of charmed escape, where daydreams rule over reality. In Head in Cloud, tall Victorian homes with ornate rooflines lean toward each other. Cats and pensive woman gaze from the windows, and in the foreground a tram moves along a schematic raised track. Butterflies and birds, not to scale with the architecture, flutter between the buildings. Welcome to Woodland also presents a memorable scene with buildings and out-of-scale birds.
Anna Podris, Head in Cloud , 2015, oil on panel.
Podris agrees that, in some cases, her buildings have more personality than the people: “I definitely think the architecture in my paintings is personified. Sometimes I have tried to make subtle faces appear by the placement of windows and ornaments.” Her paintings are lush, colorful worlds, complete with friendly subjects—such as flowers, animals, and sweet faces—and linear ornamentation portraying imagery that is often relegated to the realm of children’s books and illustration.
Many contemporary artists tread both worlds, such as August Wrenand Monika Forsberg, whose works have similar rainbow palettes and surreal, fanciful subject matter. When considering where her work falls on a continuum of fine art to illustration, Podris said, “I think the lines are blurring now more than ever, and that is great. I think with the proliferation of stock images, the traditional field of illustration has taken a hit. Maybe that has pushed illustrators into the world of fine arts. I think the difference is in the mind of the artist. An illustration is for a specific purpose and it’s a different mindset. Although fine art also aims to communicate, it is not always as tangible in the artist’s mind.” The finished result often offers more questions than answers.
Podris often uses the iconic composition of the portrait bust as a point of departure for depicting mystical visions. Geometric forms or rainbow stripes radiating from the crown of a head give visual forms to the thoughts or moods of her subjects, as in Birds of Passage. The women she paints—and they are always women—are not specific people, and she considers them self-portraits only in the sense that all art is somewhat a portrait of the artist. “They are symbolic of themes that were running through my mind and my life when I painted them,” she says. “It is important to me that they seem self-assured.”
Anna Podris, Birds of Passage , 2013, oil and encaustic on panel.
She creates comparable images of birds and buildings. In Green Bird’s Headspace, an ornate mandala of diamonds radiates from the customary black beady eye. Black lines form the mandala and outline the bird’s body and beak. The feathers are a marbleized blend of colors, a contrast to the texture of the bright, flamelike colors that radiate around it. Meanwhile, in Ghost House, a mass exodus of ghosts departs a black house and swirls toward a white one, but that drama is nearly overshadowed by the ornate patterns of the homes’ doorways and windows. The pattern and decoration is a part of the inventive narrative. Similarly, in Birds and Berries, five red birds stand on divided grounds, one half white and yellow, and the other mint green and black. Their lashed blue and green eyes meet our gaze with wizened clarity.
Although her representations take fanciful departures from reality, such as humanlike bird eyes, the observation of nature means a great deal to Podris. She teaches a class each summer at Artspace, a nonprofit arts center and open-studio environment where her studio is located. The popular weeklong class includes a visit to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and teaches the use of observation to enhance drawing skills. Podris’s artwork blends representation and symbolic, illustrative invention, demonstrating a meeting of interior and exterior, vision and mind.
This summer, she is focusing on oils: “I’m pretty sure this is a temporary respite from encaustic. I felt I needed a change in medium to break up some stagnation I was having.” She usually does not use encaustic in the same works as oils, but with a series of women’s faces, she began with an oil background to achieve a smooth color transition as she built the surface. “I don’t always start an encaustic piece that way,” she explained. “And I don’t paint oil on top of my encaustics because the wax is too fragile a base for the oils, and they are prone to scratching.” Her encaustic works on panel compose about 70 percent of her output, and, notably, Podris successfully mixes media in order to incorporate figures in encaustic paintings.
Most accomplished, contemporary encaustic art is abstract, whether geometric or reductive. Compelling contemporary encaustic work is often sculptural, as in the work of Laura Moriarty, who stacks and fuses the wax into steep, rugged outcroppings, creating a rainbow-hued geology. Other standout fine art made with wax focuses on color, like Joanne Mattera’s well-received “Silk Road” series. Complex scenes containing figures rarely succeed in encaustic, and when they do, another medium such as oil or acrylic can better summon the delicate variations in shade and light required to create a face.
Podris uses layers to help build her figures in encaustic. Over a smooth base layer of wax medium, she adds a transfer of a drawing, most often her own. Then, she adds more wax. The transfer drawings float between layers of color, providing the distinctness that is absent in much figuration done in encaustic.
Anna Podris, Eternal Return , 2013, oil and encaustic on panel.
In Eternal Return, three different textures coexist: the grainy background, the smooth skin of the central subject, and the crisp lines that encircle the woman’s head, form the little feet of the birds, and give structure to her hair. The lines are fluid and retain the sense of a sketch, which, with the textures and the vibrant colors, brings about a much expressive effect. Podris plunders the misty and gemlike qualities of encaustic paint to make her dreamlike subjects all the more otherworldly.
This August, Podris is exhibiting her entire collection of sketchbooks with her studio mate and husband, Keith Norval at Artspace in Raleigh, NC. Her work was recently on view at the Chamblin Bookmine in Sarasota, FL; as part of the collaborative Slowboil at Ahpeele Studios, Raleigh, NC and at the Cary Arts Center, Cary, NC.
Shana Dumont Garr recently relocated from Raleigh, North Carolina, to the Boston area, where she is an independent arts writer and director of Kingston Gallery in Boston’s South End.
Also, I was featured on wral.com a few years ago with my husband- Keith Norval. >>>>>>
If you've wandered the halls of Artspace in downtown Raleigh, chances are you've walked through the gallery of Keith Norval and Anna Podris.
On one side are the whimsical oil paintings created by Norval. His pop-art inspired animal paintings feature pigs and fish, elephants and rhinos and the occasional beer can of "Norvale" (get it?). On the other side hangs Podris' encaustic paintings, which use heated beeswax mixed with dyes. She creates a mostly imaginary, dreamy world of people and animals.
Their daughter Ingrid, 5, has grown up in the middle of this whimsical dream world, creating her own pieces when she's in the mood or just knocking around Artspace, taking in the painting, sculptures and works in the other galleries.
"She feels really at home around art," Podris said. "She loves to come in and make paintings when she's in the mood to do that. She's seen all kinds of different art just from being here."
I feature local moms and sometimes dads every Monday. In June, in honor of Father's Day, I'll be featuring local dads. But we're starting today with both Norval and Podris. They'll be in their studio this Friday as part of the monthly First Friday series in downtown Raleigh.
The event on the first Friday of each month features special exhibits, deals and events at downtown galleries, museums and restaurants. Artspace, a collection of artist galleries and exhibit halls in Raleigh's City Market, is open from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on First Fridays with new exhibits and open studios where visitors can watch artists such as Podris and Norval at work.
Podris and Norval also teach summer camps and programs for children at Artspace, Pullen Art Center and Wild at Art near Raleigh's Five Points. There are slots available in some of the summer camps they'll lead in the coming months.
The two have run camps and programs for kids long enough that they've watched some grow up and inspired a few to launch their own career in art.
"Working with the kids is really fun," Podris said. "Sometimes, it's a challenge to get them to do what you want them to do."
And that's a good thing, she said. "They're always putting their own spin on it," Podris said.
The artists, who are husband and wife, have shared a workspace for a decade at Artspace. They met when they were both students at the Savannah College of Art.
Norval had grown up among the animals in the bush in Zimbabwe where his father was an entomologist. He loved art from an early age and remembers getting a "good job stamp" from school for a drawing of a pig in second grade. Podris hails from the wilds of Jacksonville, Fla., where her dad, an architect, and mom, a horticulturist who loves crafts, got her interested in art. It was a high school teacher who suggested she might consider art as a career.
They arrived in Raleigh after graduation, drawn to the region's music scene and the promise of a growing art community.
"Once we got involved in the art scene, the people here embraced us," Podris said. "It's a supportive art scene within itself."
The last decade has included projects big and small, from shows and individual sales at local galleries and their studio to corporate commissions and pieces for collectors. Norval's pet portraits are popular. And they each were selected last year to have their art featured on the side of Capital Area Transit buses in Raleigh.
Norval drew dinosaurs escaping from the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, where the two shared an exhibit in March. Podris chose a collection of hybrid animals, originally suggested by her daughter and in honor of the city's buses going hybrid.
Meanwhile, they spend at least 30 hours a week at their studio in Artspace, coming up with more creations and talking with visitors about their work.
Working together all of the time can be trying. (Cue some internal discussion between the two of them about whether unsolicited advice is helpful or not).
"If you're not disagreeing than something is probably not right," Norval said.
Their studio is a fun place to discover with kids, who will appreciate the comic book-like characters that Norval creates and the imaginary world that Podris paints. They post their latest paintings and news on a joint Facebook page.
Said Podris: "I feel like if we went into some other business, we wouldn't be happy."