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Inside the Studio: Diane Ponder

Diane Ponder is an interdisciplinary artist with a passion for exploring a wide range of mediums and techniques. Her experimental approach is inspired by the great artists of the Renaissance period, and guided by her love for utilizing natural materials in her pieces. Based in Chicago, Ponder frequently challenges herself with new techniques and mediums as she explores the underlying structure of her subjects.

We sat down with Ponder for a conversation about her journey with art, how she has evolved as an artist over the years, and how her approach is grounded in the intersection of nature and technology. Her experimental approach to her works beautifully expresses concepts of healing which remind me of a quote commonly attributed to Leonardo DaVinci, “I love those who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection.”

Read on to learn more in an exclusive interview with Diane Ponder:

Patience Blues - Oil Stick on paper

How long have you been creating artwork?:

I have always loved to draw ever since I was a child. It was something I liked to do in my free time, but I did not have a lot of exposure to art outside of my own creations in my early years. It was not a part of my household, as my father was a researcher doing a lot of technical work. I chose to pursue creative outlets like drawing and reading out of my own interest and love for the craft. It wasn't until later in high school that I took art studio for the first time and tried painting. I had completed most of my required credits by my final year in high school so I was able to spend the later half of my school day in the art studio, and this is where I truly began painting with a vengeance. I really enjoyed painting subjects like stairwells, nature, and people. Also during this time, I started taking a figure drawing course at a nearby college where I could start earning college credits while still in high school.

After high school I began to chase music, hitchhiking and following bands. There was a lot of music in my neighborhood as well, including Chuck Berry’s Farm where a lot of musicians would come to play and eventually become very well known. I still didn't know many other artists during this time but there was one fellow painter, Gary, who I lived with in a commune. He was taking a class at the Kansas City Art Institute, and his teacher was Thomas Hart Benton who is a well-known painter. Through my friend, I was exposed to the works of Benton which influenced my works at the time. Throughout these early years, although I wasn't surrounded by many painters, I continued to create art and explore different mediums.

Daveed Triptych - Acrylic on paper

You mentioned Thomas Hart Benton as being an early influence of yours, were there any other artists that inspired or influenced your works?

I really like Leonora Carrington who is a female surrealist whose works have been shown around my area in the midwest. Maurizio Cattelan is an Italian visual artist who I like because of his absurdity used in very out-of-context ways. I've been influenced by the works of the Dada Movement, which I learned a lot about in a class at the University of Chicago. I really enjoyed the spontaneous and rebellious aspect of these works.

I was also very interested in the way science and art intersect, so artists like Michaelangelo and DaVinci were very inspiring to me. DaVinci was very interesting because he was continuously experimenting and trying new things, which I relate with. I love waking up and trying new things, new approaches, and new mediums.

A Look Inside Ponder’s Studio

Speaking of mediums and new approaches, I see that you've recently created a series of works that utilize salt on canvas. Can you tell me more about your interest in using salt in your work?:

I was part of the Center Program in Hyde Park, which was a collaboration between the University of Chicago and the Art Institute. During my time in this program, one of my sons had an overdose and I just couldn't imagine using colors or paints the same way. I had begun using salts as a healing tool, as a way to purify the air. Himalayan salt is very good for purifying the air, so I started experimenting with big slabs of this salt. I liked exploring the canvas using salt as a collage medium because it doesn't dissolve into the pigment like a powder pigment does to oil. There were many different attempts to use salt in different ways, both in paintings and in sculptures. I would pour water onto the salt, letting it drip down to create holes. In this series and all my works, I enjoy the aspect of utilizing natural materials.

Soul Healing - Mixed Media and Natural Salt on Canvas.

Photographed by Maia Peters

You utilize lots of natural and recycled materials in your work. What is your motivation for this?:

Because it's good for the planet and for the artist that is constantly exposed to these materials. It's also good for the collectors and viewers, keeping them from being exposed to more toxic materials. I love this planet and I try my best to respect our bodies. After all, we need our bodies to observe and interact with all the wonderful art! I also love the reusability aspect and being aware of the environment when creating. I think utilizing recycled materials is really important and brings even more value to the piece that you're creating, even if it has no relation to the subject in the art. I always try to incorporate some kind of natural aspect in my work.

You've shown your work all around the world. Growing up in the Midwest, how did you branch out and travel the world with your art?:

I've been fortunate enough that my works have been noticed by people online, and through that exposure, I've been invited to shows. I was contacted by someone who saw my art on facebook or Instagram, who then invited me to a gallery in the East Village. Going to this gallery allowed me to build up a network of other artists and gallery owners. Through this snowball effect, I've come to build a network of people around the world who have invited me to showcase my art. So far I have been able to travel and showcase in places like London, Korea, and Los Angeles. My art has also given me the opportunity to live overseas for 3 years and throughout different states in the US.

Diane Ponder - Photo by Maia Peters

What message or feelings do you hope to convey through your art?:

I emphasize healing in my works, especially in more recent years. I have been exposed to some damaging things in my history and I think that the healing aspect of my art has been evolving. I hope to continue to evolve in that way, but also to work with other artists who have an affinity for that. I also want to emphasize the health of the planet as well, through my application of natural materials. Overall, I have a strong emotional connection to my works so I hope that I can invoke emotional reactions in the people who view my art.

Times Pi - Natural Salt, Wax and Chalk on Canvas

How do you think you have evolved as an artist over the course of your career?

In my earlier years, I was very much trying a Renaissance approach through observational experimentation by trying to create a realistic view of things. This was directly influenced by the DaVinci notebooks that I was reading at the time and by the works of Thomas Benton who I mentioned earlier. I was a lot more private and less collaborative during this time as well. I then evolved into doing very classical-style works with oil paints. Now I like to collaborate with other artists and experiment with new technologies, as I believe curious Renaissance artists would have done as well because it was in their nature to create and explore new technologies.

Overall throughout the years, I have focused on the anatomy and underlying structure of things. I feel like the underlying structure of a person has an important way of creating the surface that is presented to the world. I can use water as an example of this: Water can take many different forms depending on the conditions, as it can remain water, turn to steam, and become frozen, but in all these different forms its core molecular structure remains the same. I think that this idea of an underlying structure is so interesting, and beautiful, and something I attempt to show in the subject of my works.

Learn more about Diane Ponder and view her upcoming shows through these links:


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