‘Coming of Age': Artist puts social networking images on canvas

by Sharon Dargay • O&E STAFF WRITER • January 9, 2011

Viewing Erica Podwoiski's first major one-woman art show is a little like peeking into a family photo album.

“What I love about her work is the narrative. She is chronicling coming of age, using herself and her sister as the subject. This is her sister,” said Diane DeCillis, owner of Lido Gallery & Gifts in Birmingham, describing two of several portraits in the exhibit. “This is a self portrait It was at sunset. You can see shadows from the blinds. It's interesting to see.”

Other pieces show Podwoiski, her sister or their friends as youngsters adorned in handmade dress-up gowns sewn by the artist's grandmother, on the sand at the beach, and playing in their Garden City neighborhood.

“I think she does it beautifully,” DeCillis said. “I've been watching her over the years. She recently graduated and I decided she was ready for a show.”

“Coming of Age in an Era of Celebrity Worship,” which runs through Jan. 30, at Lido Gallery, includes pieces from Podwoiski's thesis show at the Columbus College of Art & Design, which explored notions of privacy, female stereotypes and the allure of Facebook and MySpace for image-conscious women and girls. Podwoiski, 22, who was Valedictorian of her class in May 2010, painted images she found on social networking pages for her student show. She also drew inspiration from old family photos and used her sister, herself and childhood friends as subjects.

“I've always been fascinated about pop culture. For me, it's about what happens when real girls and their lives become intertwined with popular culture and what we value as society ... dressing up and wanting to be pretty,” Podwoiski explained. “With MySpace and Facebook it's so easy now to put images of yourself out there and have an alternate persona projected on the world. There's that whole idea of fame, especially for girls, that everyone wants to be famous.”


When she began her thesis exhibit, she painted images of strangers on Facebook and MySpace pages, eventually posting her works on her own Facebook page. She heard from one subject, who took issue with the title of a painting in the series. “My sister had given me a link to her profile. She embodied what I was trying to say. She was about 14 and had a Playboy outfit on ... in the corner there was a picture of her little brother looking angelic. The contrast was funny to me. I painted it and titled it ‘If You Nasty.' I put it online and she saw it and wrote me a message saying it was disrespectful. But I think part of it is that if you put images out there, there is no protection for you. Anyone can see it. Anyone can take it.”

Toward the end of the thesis project, Podwoiski began to focus on acquaintances, friends and family as subject matter after the Web images “started to feel voyeuristic.” She wanted some “interaction” with her models, even if it was only a memory sparked by a family photo.

She enlisted the help of a friend to pose for the centerpiece of the Lido exhibit. Scopophilia shows a woman looking at herself in a mirror, with Facebook page and self portraits nearby. A risque companion piece was accepted into this year's Dirty Show, an international erotic art exhibition that runs Feb. 11-19 at Berts Warehouse Theater, 2739 Russell, Detroit; www.dirtydetroit.com. Tickets are available online and from River's Edge Gallery in Wyandotte; (734) 246-9880 as well as Noir Leather in Royal Oak, (248) 541-3979.


A portion of the Lido exhibit also includes several embellished bras, the sale of which will benefit METAvivor, a research and support group for metastatic breast cancer. Podwoiski's mother, Leanne, has stage four breast cancer and suggested the organization.

Podwoiski credits her mother and her father, Don, for supporting her interest in art, which began as soon as she could hold a pencil and draw. They held art exhibitions in their home during family gatherings and took her to museum shows. Lefanne gardens and sketched while in high school and Don, an engineer, has dabbled in painting. No one objected when she decided to pursue a fine arts degree.

“I know it's a very competitive field to go into, but it's what I want to do and I couldn't see myself doing anything else,” said, Podwoiski, who lives with her parents and sister in Garden City. She hopes to return to school and pursue a master's degree in 2012, while continuing to create art.

Lido Gallery is located at 33535 Woodward, north of 14 Mile in Birmingham; (734) 792-6246.