In 1969, 10-year-old Ana Polanco finished a late meal of arepas with cheese and rushed to the porch to make art with her father and brother. It was a warm August night in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital and most populous city. Sounds were coursing through her veins, and her head was swimming with ideas. Colorful shadows danced across the city as she gazed outward and inward for inspiration. This was her life from the beginning — filled with shifting streams of light and shimmering colors.
Mountainous terrain shadowed the nearby Caribbean Sea, and the city was a hub of cultural activity. The Museum of Fine Arts and National Art Gallery weren’t far from her home, resting in the heart of the valley. Ana’s immediate family shared a home with 10 relatives, not unusual in Venezuela at the time. It was full of activity, warmth, creativity and love.
For Ana, life is about color and story joining together in a masterfully interwoven experience. It is poetry and dance, voice and music, a marriage that becomes something greater than the sum of its parts. When Ana looks at life, she sees it as colliding hues, bending light into a kaleidoscopic vision of beauty.
“As a young child, after dinner my family would gather to create. Along with my father and brother, I would sculpt, draw and paint into the evening. We were fortunate to grow up in a house full of color, music and love, and we all shared an immeasurable passion for art,” Ana says.
When Ana was growing up, her father worked for Oxford office supplies, and her uncle, Ernesto, owned the Venezuelan division of Germany-based Faber-Castell, the well-known maker of writing implements. As a teenager, Ana hand-colored catalogs for her uncle. “The colors were true because each one was made with the actual marker,” she says. Ana always loved to draw, and this was one way to learn about colors.
From uncles to in-laws, artistic talent courses through Ana’s family. “I have two brothers, one older and one younger,” she says. “The younger brother is also an artist, ceramics. Three of my aunts were artists, and my father’s brother was noted landscape artist Rafael Polanco. They were all great inspirations to me. Art was always a part of our everyday lives.”
At 17, Ana graduated from high school and pursued her creative training at the Universidad Nueva Esparta in Caracas, later shifting to the Design Institute of Caracas, where she studied industrial design and architectural drawing. In the evenings, she also studied piano at the Conservatorio de Musica with Juan Jose Landaeta.
When she came to the United States in 1981, she studied English at Annhurst College in Connecticut. After the school closed, she moved her studies to Bradford College in Haverhill, taking every art course available. Later she attended Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, studying graphic design. She tried to learn as much as she could about practical applications for her creative skills, but her heart belonged to the fine arts. When the Venezuelan government destabilized, they called home all government-funded students, but by then Ana had met Kevin Smyth, who would later become her husband.
A son, daughter and two granddaughters later, Ana finds herself returning to her first love … painting. She says that for a while she fell into daily life. “Like so many, I walked along the path with no goal other than to take the next step and reach the next divide,” she says. “But all along I knew one day art would be waiting for me at that crossroad, and it was.” Locally, Ana has studied painting under artists David Lussier and Dennis Perrin, and took classes from Marc Mannheimer at Northern Essex Community College.
Van Gogh’s turbulent flow inspires her, as well as the composition of Matisse and the crisp angular lines and shadows of Edward Hopper. Color doesn’t disguise itself as objects to Ana, but moves in and out in a synchronistic song. The heartbeat of the forests with greens upon green, the brawn of the earth, and the constant and graceful power of the oceans’ swirling soul all speak to her.
“I’m not too much into modern art, even though I like some modern artists. I love Lisa Noonis in Kittery, Maine,” Ana says. “She’s more impressionistic. She works a lot with color blocking. Linda Christensen, out of Northern California, is also wonderful.
Sometimes, Ana will turn her attention to the willowy beauty of flowers and greenery. “In flowers, I see movement and joy,” she writes. “They steal my eyes wherever they are and beg to be painted.” But while nature speaks to her in one way, architecture has a language of its own. “My favorite themes are flowers and architecture merging with the landscape,” she says. “And I love the architecture of New England … the old, old architecture. I have a calm feeling from the old, from history — it’s just a different feeling.
“I actually hope people see the changes of all the colors, the movement, how one color alters another one by being next to it. It’s what I do when I paint; I’ll take a color and I’ll warm it up. So the person viewing it won’t look at the painting steady, but their eye will jump all over it, looking for a slight change of color or movement.
“Art is as much a part of me as my blood and bone. It fills me and drives me. It is my sustenance. I breathe in the colors that surround me, pulling them into my lungs and nourishing my soul. I see colors in the white light and in the deepest darkness. They tickle my eyes and speak to me in languages long dead. I can hear them. I can taste them.”
Currently, Ana teaches art classes at Essex Art Center in Lawrence. She is also artist in residence at Stevens-Coolidge Place, is co-owner of Smyth Graphics in the Ward Hill neighborhood of Haverhill, where she also serves as a designer, and gives private and group lessons. She was named Haverhill’s Artist of the Month in December 2019 and also featured on our May/June 2020 cover.