Episode 18

Embracing the Abstract

Art speaks to all of us in many different ways, and artists follow many different paths to make connections. The movement from realism to the abstract in the making of art shows mastery of multiple styles and speaks to a broad range of viewers. Aritist Mary Vidnovic shares her journey through photography, photorealistic painting to abstract portraiture and the connections she hopes her work can make with individuals and groups.

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For the longest time my goal was to make drawings and paintings that were as photorealistic as possible. I kind of thought that in order to be taken seriously as an artist, I needed to show that I had a great deal of technical skill. But at the same time, I started getting really into photography and the more I started taking photos, the less I was interested in creating paintings that look same as taking a photograph. Mary Vidnovic


CCB: [00:00:00] Welcome to the ONEder podcast, this is CCB your host, and we have a lovely story to share in this episode. We've been working on a project called Workplace 2030. It's intended to be an interactive learning environment for folks to experience the design, the new technologies, and the protocols that will help us return to a safer and better workplace once we're able to. To build that better environment, along with space designs that support collaboration and focus, we added more elements of sensory design intended to make our whole selves feel more comfortable in the space. There are functional environmental scents to evoke calm and energy in areas within the space, that are appropriate to those feelings. There are curated playlists of music that support different modes of working. And there's a thoughtfully curated art program to promote well-being, to stimulate creativity and productivity, and to support our feelings of connection, community, and overall culture. Our creative lead, Albert Ho, worked on the selection of art pieces that he hoped would work in this special space. To complete that selection, we've gone out to our local community and found a group of young artists who have lots to say and lots to contribute to the environment. Today we're talking with one of them, Mary Vidnovic. And so I'd like to say welcome, Mary.

Mary Vidnovic: [00:02:03] Thanks for having me.

CCB: [00:02:05] And we are delighted to have you and I'd love for you to spend a little bit of time and explain or tell us the story of who you are. Mary, how did you get to, what was the path that you took to become the artist that you are today?

Mary Vidnovic: [00:02:19] Ok, so I grew up in Santa Cruz, California. It's a really supportive art community there. And I've been trying for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are of drawing. But I really started getting into painting in high school. And then from there I went on to study at San Jose State. For the longest time my goal was to make drawings and paintings that were as photorealistic as possible. I kind of thought that in order to be taken seriously as an artist, I needed to show that I had a great deal of technical skill. But at the same time, I started getting really into photography and the more I started taking photos, the less I was interested in creating paintings that look same as taking a photograph. I just didn't really see the point in it. And so I started embracing all of the brush strokes instead of that was smoothing them away. And I just had fun in the experimentation of being more loose and free and abstract. And so now I try to combine a sense of realism in this kind of abstracted dream world and my artwork.

CCB: [00:03:32] So you have on your website and we'll share that with all of our listeners. There are examples of your photography and then there also are examples of your painting, all of which are pretty remarkable. And I wanted to ask that question about the photography. How? When you moved into that, was it the capturing of … because you do a lot of landscapes, is that a connection to place or is it just because it's opportunistic? What drove you to that arena?

Mary Vidnovic: [00:04:13] I actually really like taking pictures of people, but it is probably more just opportunistic to take pictures of landscapes. But I got into photography pretty early on. I think I was in high school when I started getting interested in it, and it's always been just kind of a fun way of expressing myself.

CCB: [00:04:39] I'm going to ask this question in a funny way, but are you supporting yourself through your artwork at this moment in time?

Mary Vidnovic: [00:04:49] I'm not actually right now. I work at a tech company, but I'm actually working in a photography studio, so.

CCB: [00:04:57] And for the what, what do you do with the tech company in the photography studio?

Mary Vidnovic: [00:05:02] Right. Well, I kind of got into the photography space right out of college. I took a job retouching wedding photos. Then I was doing that for many years and I really loved it. Touching is kind of like painting in a way, because instead of painting a portrait you're painting away someone's flyaway hairs or a sticker that shouldn't be on the product or something like that. But right now I'm actually a digital technician. And in that role, I kind of help out with photographers on set and I make sure that all of the photos that they take are completely in focus. So it's a very technical role in a photography studio.

CCB: [00:05:51] But you found a way to bring your appreciation for art and the art making into this into your work environment as well.

Mary Vidnovic: [00:06:00] So in my office, there's a lot of creative people between the photo studio and also there's lots of graphic designers, and web designers, and so the gallery night was kind of created as a way to encourage people to be creative outside of work, just to create just for creation sake. And I feel like we're always sort of staring at our screens and running around trying to make these crazy deadlines. So it's nice to inspire people to try a new creative outlet and to pick up their paintbrush or their camera or whatever they use and make something that they feel excited to share and it creates a sense of community among all of us. And there's always a lot of people who e-mail me to just be like, "When's the next gallery night?" And then there's other people who like seeing all the talent in the group. So there's always people that join every time.

CCB: [00:07:01] So I think that's the nature of creating community through art is something that is part of the intention of the artwork in the Workplace 2030 space. And that's keeping people aware of the creativity that is kind of abounding in in the Bay Area, honestly, but also that there are people, you know, within our community who are the makers. So there's this connection not only to the stimulation from the art itself, but to makers and holding on to that awareness. So I think it's pretty cool that that you have been working in that world yourself.

Mary Vidnovic: [00:07:50] I've got lot of positive feedback from people in the office, even the people who haven't really participated in the gallery nights. They're just happy to see the artwork up on the walls and kind of helps them when they're feeling stressed out.

CCB: [00:08:09] Yeah, yeah. It's going back to that sensory balance, honestly, and that the more often that we as human beings are surrounded by positive stimulation for all of us is the more balanced, it's a comfort level that each of us have. And sometimes it's very, very unconscious. But it's you know, it's that lack, discomfort is the lack of comfort. It's harder to say why you're comfortable. It's easier to say why you're not. So I think that.

Mary Vidnovic: [00:08:51] Yeah,

CCB: [00:08:52] Yeah. And that it brings joy also is something delightful to infuse into the workplace. We feel very strongly.

Mary Vidnovic: [00:09:03] Yeah. And I feel like art in the workplace is kind of neat now more than ever because a lot of people are coming back to work after working for many months at home. And so they need something to feel comfortable and kind of safe and kind of a soothing environment instead of just going back to work. So it's nice to artwork up on the wall.

CCB: [00:09:27] So I'm going to take that little pivot and go into the artwork itself and the portraits that you do. They're amazing.

Mary Vidnovic: [00:09:39] Thank you

CCB: [00:09:39] Yeah. So can you talk a little bit about that, that process?

Mary Vidnovic: [00:09:44] Yeah. A lot of my paintings are variations on self portraits. I try to bring out a lot of different emotions through colors and textures or paint drips and scribbles. And I love painting the eyes because they're kind of the window into a soul. And I like making portraits where the subject is staring right at the viewer.

CCB: [00:10:11] And I mean, they are pretty intense. They're also, there's such a layer. There's a complexity to them. It's not when you're in your “realism gone, Mary Vidnovic style”, that the depth of them, there's much more to it. It draws you in.

Mary Vidnovic: [00:10:38] Yeah, I mean, all of my paintings kind of have a very personal meaning for me, and I'm always experimenting with a lot of different styles and techniques. So I just try to be authentic to myself, unless it's a commission,

CCB: [00:10:38] Unless it's a commission. Ok, but you introduce two statements there that are kind of topics I'd love to hear more about. One is the idea of the personal nature in bringing the person, you know, it's your story and you're telling it through your art. So how do you where do you find the inspiration?

Mary Vidnovic: [00:11:22] And I find inspiration from many different ways.

CCB: [00:11:27] The topic that you introduced in that statement about whether it's for commission, I was going to ask whether or not you do commission work and if so, where does that come from?

Mary Vidnovic: [00:11:40] I have been asked to do some commissions, my latest one was a portrait of David Bowie. Yeah, this one guy had been through the commission about 10 years ago of Miles Davis, and he reached out 10 years later and asked for David Bowie. So, yeah. And some people asked me to paint portraits of their pets. I've done a lot of pet portraits, but I haven't done any larger scale commissions yet.

CCB: [00:12:14] Though you have had a fairly robust showing calendar in a lot of galleries and a lot of exhibitions.

Mary Vidnovic: [00:12:24] Yeah, since I was very out there when I lived in Santa Cruz, it's a very supportive artistic community there. And so there are so many different places where I could show my art in that area. Yeah.

CCB: [00:12:40] I keep going back to, I love the landscape paintings, I mean, I really do because they're all these stories. And I'm curious, are they, were you, did you visit these places or are these from photographs as well?

Mary Vidnovic: [00:12:59] No, I visited all of these places. Usually they're places that I love or that have some sort of meaning to me. I have a lot of paintings of San Francisco Bay Area. I did a huge series of Greek paintings. I was at a Greek festival many years ago and I had a booth set up to sell my Greece paintings. And it's one of my favorite places to visit. And most recently I did a series of paintings of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and I auctioned those off to raise money for the fire relief fund for all of the stuff that's going on right now.

CCB: [00:13:38] Thank you. Much of what the story that you're telling us has to do with the community, which is which is wonderful. And that is one of the reasons why we have the art selections that we do because we're celebrating the community and we're celebrating that community awareness and folks that are interested in giving back, not only are you making things, but you're also giving back, which is beautiful. So as a piece of the art program at Workplace 2030, we're going to be facilitating perhaps the sale of some of your artwork. And if we do make a sale, you have asked for it to be contributed to a certain cause. And I'd love for you to share a little bit about that if you'd like to.

Mary Vidnovic: [00:14:37] Ok, yeah, I'll be donating a portion of my sales to the Endometriosis Foundation of America. It's a disorder that I have. One in ten women actually have this disorder. It causes severe pain and it can lead to infertility. And despite how common it is, it's also very misunderstood and misdiagnosed. Like in my case, I probably had it from the time I was 12, but I didn't actually get diagnosed until I was 27. Yeah. So a lot of doctors have kind of told me that my pain's normal and kind of just sent me on my way. So it just it takes a really long time to be diagnosed. And the only way to be diagnosed at the moment is to undergo a kind of unpleasant surgery. So there's no cure for it yet. And there's not a whole lot of treatments and not a whole lot of options. So this foundation helps women recognize the symptoms and helps fund some very much needed research in this area. So it's a good cause and it's a really personal one for me.

CCB: [00:15:48] Thank you for sharing that story. It is very personal, but it also is that contribution back to greater good. So I think you're weaving in all of the intention in this conversation for the art program at Workplace 2030. It wants to build community. It wants to help people become more aware of what creativity there is in community. And it wants to also open people's heart. I talked about joy, but it also is kind of opening people's hearts to, you know, how grateful we can be for what we have. Because the Return to the Office is going to be a joyful thing for many people. It also might be kind of a little bit challenging for some who are more concerned and have that anxiety about being out in the public space again. And so to make them feel more at ease, the nature of the art it was selected with that in mind. So we're very grateful to have you as a member of the art program. What else would you like to share with the listeners? What else would you like them to know?

Mary Vidnovic: [00:17:24] I'm really happy to be included in this project and I feel like art in the workplace is really needed right now. So thanks for including me.

CCB: [00:17:35] Certainly. Where we're where do you think your art is going to take you? Do you have any idea?

Mary Vidnovic: [00:17:42] I hope I can become a full time artist at some point, but for now I'm really happy in the space that I'm in, being able to work in photography and art.

CCB: [00:17:52] Mary, I want to say thank you very much for joining us. We really appreciate you sharing your thoughts. I am here to tell you, Mary's work is beautiful and you will appreciate it.