Anna Davlantes painted and photographed
Lining the walls, the larger-than-life oil canvases dwarf Ann Ponce’s Ravenswood studio. The subjects are Chicago television anchors, reporters, and journalists, so they are familiar, yet here, a bit mysterious. The people are recognizable, although not quite, in this mode: Linda Yu (ABC 7 co-anchor) sprouts butterfly wings; Robin Robinson (Fox Chicago co-anchor) floats in a smoky blue wrap; Warner Saunders (former WMAQ lead anchor) channels Cary Grant. In the middle of the studio is a painting of Anna Davlantes (former WMAQ weekend anchor), posed like John Singer Sargent’s famous Madame X: head turned to the side, body straight ahead. A contemporary addition: In this portrait, titled Madame Generation X, a tiny portable TV sits on the side table where Davlantes rests her hand.
“These paintings are the same size as Sargent’s well-known portrait,” says Ann Ponce, 59, a Chicago portrait and landscape painter. She embarked on this project last fall with her 29-year-old daughter, the photographer Maria Ponce. Their goal was to explore the identities of local television journalists after the cameras have been turned off. “In our society, these are the faces of intelligence and beauty,” says Ann. “But who are they when the set isn’t on?”
The Ponces’ intertwined show, On TV/Off TV, opens Friday, November 20th at the Packer Schopf Gallery. Ten oversize oil portraits by Ann make up half the show; Maria’s 30 black-and-white photographs in a diptych format (two images in one photo split screen) fill out the program. “I wanted to do something very different from what my mother was doing,” Maria says. “She did the more glitterati side. My goal was to capture them informally, in their own decisive moment.” These moments include some very ruffled, even scruffy, images of the usually hypergroomed TV personalities. “It was funny how shy some of these people were when not in front of a television camera.”
Together, the painted and photographed portraits explore the roles of familiar yet unknown faces that flicker through our lives. It is not surprising that the mother-daughter team chose this subject matter. Phil Ponce, host of WTTW’s Chicago Tonight, is Ann’s husband and Maria’s father; son/brother Anthony is a reporter for NBC 5; and son/brother Dan was formerly a reporter at ABC 7.
On TV/Off TV is the third team effort for Ann and Maria. In 2003 and 2004, they had joint gallery shows about a trip to Mexico and the men in their lives. “There is always tension, and there is always love,” says Ann about their working together. “We definitely challenge each other,” adds Maria. “I pushed her to be more modern, and she pushed me to be more grounded. In the end, it was all beautiful.”
GO: On TV/Off TV runs Nov. 20th–Dec. 23rd at Packer Schopf, 942 W. Lake St.; 312-226-8984, packergallery.com
Photography: Courtesy of Ann and Maria Ponce