Local artist Polla Posavec takes the spotlight this September, sitting as artist-in-residence at the Chittering Visitors Centre as part of Chittering SpringFest. Polla’s artistic journey began in her formative years, her budding talent nurtured by her family, including creatively-inclined parents, and a patient grandmother…
“My nanna remembers babysitting me and I was getting so mad that the picture wasn’t turning out the way I wanted,” Polla laughs. “I made her hold my hand and direct it so the picture would come out the way I envisaged. My obsession with attention to detail definitely started early.”
“Dad would have likely studied art at university himself, but was drawn away from that into a more “practical” career,” says Polla.
“He was very mindful not to push me in that direction, but certainly not to discourage me either.” His approach worked, and Polla went on to complete a Fine Arts degree at University of Western Australia. While acknowledging the grounding the academically-based course gave her, she is keen to point out that it is not a university degree that makes an artist.
“I don’t give the course any credit for my practical skills,” she laughs. That she attributes to pure brush miles. “It is great having the technical foundation behind it, learning art history etc — but honestly, the best way to get better at painting is to just do a lot of it.”
Polla’s art style while at university is worlds away from the nature-inspired watercolours she is known for today. Luminous, acrylic canvases celebrating fashion and pop culture, and providing commentary on commercialism was her main output, representative of her love of Roy Lichtenstein, and the 50s and 60s pop-art movement. This aesthetic also served her well when Polla moved into graphic design working for a clothing printing company. “The clean edge and simple colours…it went really well together,” she explains.
Her biggest turning point, both on a personal level and artistically, followed the unexpected death of her husband in 2009 — leaving Polla a solo parent to newborn baby Lewis. The demands of parenting whilst processing such a huge loss left very little space for imagination to flourish.
“I just couldn’t come up with new ideas,” she explains. “I stopped doing anything creative for the best part of a year.”
When the newborn and grief fog had lifted enough to allow for inspiration to seep back in, it was the more practical medium of watercolour that brought Polla back to the studio.
“If the baby starts crying, you can walk away and everything can dry on the palette,” she explains. “You haven’t wasted half a palette of acrylics, and it’s not very messy – if it gets upended by a toddler, it’s not a huge disaster.”
Practicality aside, process-driven Polla soon fell in love with what is often viewed as an intimidating medium – watery pigment can be unpredictable, uncontrollable, and unforgiving.
“I also wanted to try it because it was tricky,” she said. “It has to be a challenge or I’m not interested.”
Thematically, Polla’s style changed too — bold pop-art was replaced by intricately-detailed paintings inspired by her natural surroundings. If you apply a critical lens to this evolution, you could say she was an artist softened by tragedy, but more likely, it is indicative of someone who realised life was too short to have her true creativity stifled by scholarly expectations.
Polla explains, “When I was at uni, subjects that weren’t lofty or meaningful in some way were frowned upon by the academics – and I resisted following some of the subjects that I really enjoyed. As you get older though, you start to care a little less what people think.”
Polla’s style now is a joyous expression of the simple pleasures of life – birds and botanicals, canine companions and stimulating still lifes that bring an extra dimension to everyday objects. And despite a former professor’s warning that one should never ‘prostitute yourself to commercialism,’ the viewing public are on board.
“It’s interesting that nature has such a broad appeal,” says Polla. “Visually we have some sort of attraction to it, and some innate understanding to appreciate its beauty.”
Debunking the struggling-artist stereotype, Polla made a conscious decision two years ago to build her art practice to a point where she did not need to rely on any side hustles.
“I joined an art business group, and I have a coach, which has been great. You need to learn marketing and potential outlets and you’ve got to put yourself out there. A lot of artists are a bit on the introverted side, so the business and promotion doesn’t meld particularly well!
“My strategy has been to approach anyone and everyone – galleries, competitions, markets. — just being seen. The rest of this year is super busy, and I’m starting to see things lined up ahead — it’s really positive.”
Polla’s exceptional skills were recently recognised with her acceptance into the Watercolour Society of WA — a peer-reviewed process in which applicants must display a ‘sufficiently advanced level of expertise and understanding’. She is excited for future endeavours amongst like-minded artists.
“Watercolour is an underrepresented medium — especially in competitions,” she said. “They’re often not bright enough to compete with a big, vivid acrylic — they just don’t have the same punch. To have a whole room of people celebrating watercolour as their craft is inspirational.”
Polla’s artwork will be on display at the Chittering Visitors Centre all month. She will be onsite every Saturday through September, 10 am to 12 pm and Sunday 17 September, 10 am to 12 pm. You can follow her on social media @pollaposavecart.