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Go Ask Mom

Husband-wife team create whimsical dream world at Artspace

Posted June 1, 2014

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. Jeweled Lilliputian on Slender Wings by Anna Podris

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."

Go Ask Mom features local parents every Monday and local fathers in June.

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