Pomonis Studio Portrait, 2022 photo by Justin Stadel
What does a day in your art practice look like?
I spend a lot of time drawing on grid paper. I have been working on creating painted surfaces that replicate embroidery patterns and digital pixelated renderings. I am interested in the relationship of the grid to diverse technologies. Folk art from across the world includes elements of math thinking in a tradition without mathematical notation. Though embroideries themselves communicate a level of skill and thinking on the part of the people who stitched them, they are commonly not thought of as evidence of complex mathematical thought. This discrepancy fascinates me and I am drawn to it over and over again.
What would life be like without art?
I don’t think life really exists without art. Creation is an active process in every sense of the word.
What is the hardest part of creating your art?
My work is made by hand but strives to look like it is made digitally. I have to really slow down to achieve the flawless surfaces seen in my work. Precision is necessary to create the dramatic tension I am looking for. I continually draw and pull straight lines with an x-acto knife, so each mark has to be perfect in order to achieve that. My goal is to lul a viewer into a space where they think they are looking at a static digital screen when all of a sudden it occurs to them that they are looking at a painting made by a human being. I want the pieces to look like they were born like the goddess Athena from the forehead of Zeus, fully formed in a state of parthenogenesis.
What inspires you?
I grew up in a Greek Orthodox community in central Illinois and was very interested in all of the iconography surrounding me as a child. I find the relationships between sacred spaces, and interior architectural surfaces to be mind altering. Sacred or utopian spaces are designed to elevate the viewer’s sense of connection to a greater life force. I am interested as an artist in creating visual experiences that move perceptually through the body. I use an airbrush both physically and metaphorically to evoke air within the paintings and the architectural components of my work help to amplify an experience of light, spirit and space.
My mother and father ran bars and restaurants on and around campus at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I eventually attended art school there as an undergraduate student in the school of FAA under Buzz Spector and Rosalyn Schwartz. When I visit UIUC I make it a point to visit the contemporary art collection at the Krannert Art Museum and the Amazon metope from the Parthenon housed at the Spurlock Museum. The Spurlock owns the most complete plaster cast of the Parthenon frieze in the United States. When I look at my work now I can see the influence of color in Baziotes’s, Moon Animal owned by KAM and the subjects of the plaster casts at the Spurlock. These first aesthetic experiences are the ones that have stayed with me the longest.
Zabalam Temple, 2021 Acrylic airbrush on canvas over shaped panel 30 x 30 inches Courtesy of the Floating Gallery
What advice would you give your younger self?
You have to make a lot of terrible work before you make anything that really is important. It takes a long time to peel away the layers of yourself. Just be patient and persistent, as long as you put in the time with yourself, your audience will find you.
Who would you most like to collaborate with? Why?
I know John Van Hamersveld and have been a big fan of his work for a long time. His graphic movie poster from 1965, The Endless Summer, is one of the most iconic and intense images in the 20th century. I like to think of it as a Rothko on acid. I made a whole series of paintings about the image for a show in Chicago at I-space Gallery in 2007. When I see him I make a point to remind him that I want to make a collaborative artwork with him. He just laughs when I ask but I can tell I am wearing him down. Recently at a show he told me, “I think I am the only person here who recognizes how difficult your work is to make.” Then he proceeded to compliment me on both the color relationships and craftsmanship of my process. I agreed with him and reminded him that it is precisely because he recognizes the complexity in my work that I can recognize the complexity in his and that we should collaborate!
What is the best advice you’ve been given?
My mentor Carole Caroompas used to call me randomly late at night when she would be taking a smoke break in the studio. She would say, “Are you painting? I am painting. You should be painting too if you want to be any fucking good.” I am so grateful to her for teaching me how to be rigorous and consistent in the studio.
Fortuna as the Queen of Clubs, 2023 Acrylic on canvas over panel, 20 x 20 inches Courtesy of the LADIES’ ROOM
If you could change anything about the art world, what would it be?
I think there should be more avenues for social mobility in the arts. I think it can be problematic when institutions only patronize artists who attended the most expensive private universities. I teach at Cal State Fullerton and I know from my own personal experience that public school students have an incredible work ethic that often times comes from being first in their family to go to college. When your entire family’s savings is on the line you have to work hard. I was first in my family to graduate with a master’s degree and it meant so much to my family. I think sometimes the art objects we see as abject are merely privileged iterations of ideas. Over time I don’t think the abject will have a great place in art history other than to point out the limitations of late stage capitalist production.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?
My mantra is, ‘every day, a little bit, all the time ‘. I am just grateful to be alive and make my work. My mom died of breast cancer at 31, its really a privilege to be alive and healthy, I don’t take anything for granted. The trauma of her loss is the thing that most influences my persistence, I don’t think I would have even dared to be an artist had I not been shocked into depression by such a profound loss. I really thought until I was 30 that I would die young like my mother. When I made it to 30 and nothing bad happened I sort of woke up and really began living my life.
If you had the chance to live during a different artistic movement other than now, which one would you choose? and why?
I don’t know that I would have had much of a shot before this era. However, If I could go back and be an artist in Los Angeles in the late 1970’s hanging out with Carole Caroompas and Alexis Smith, that would be amazing. They had a lot of fun, I have seen the pictures!
What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in your field?
Only do this if you are willing to work on it your entire life. Don’t do it to live the lifestyle. If you want to live the lifestyle, be a collector. Most of what artists do is terribly boring. The best artists are the biggest nerds; and while painting is a lot of things, it is not glamorous.
How do you make the leap from an idea in your head to the action you produce?
I read books and draw in my sketchbook, go to public lectures, listen to music and stay active in my imagination. Then when I am doing something random like commuting between Los Angeles and Fullerton, or I’m swimming laps, something from those experiences will bubble up in my imagination. The most important thing is to capture the thought when it occurs.
She Gathers the Me in Radiant Light, 2019 Acrylic airbrush on canvas over octagonal panel, 36 x 36 inches Courtesy of Louis Stern Fine Arts
Mary Anna Pomonis is a Los Angeles-based artist and activist. In 2023, Pomonis’s solo exhibition, Smoke and Mirrors, opened at the EWU Gallery at Eastern Washington University. Her last solo show, Iris Oculus, opened at the Lancaster Museum of Art and History in 2020. She is currently in the group show of contemporary art, California Sober, at the Floating Gallery in Los Angeles. Recently, Pomonis was included in the show, Transcendent, at Louis Stern Fine Arts, curated by Michael Duncan.
Pomonis is the founder of the Association of Hysteric Curators (AHC), a collective of feminist artists. In 2023, AHC curated Goddesses and Monsters, an online exhibition with the LADIES’ ROOM, currently on view until August 31st. In 2023, she released a line of limited edition skateboards with the California Locos. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Art Education at California State University Fullerton where she teaches Art and Social Justice, as well as, Art and Creative Thinking.