It was never Maria Stoljar's dream to become a podcaster, but a desire to learn more from other artists led her down an unexpected path. Maria's podcast, Talking with Painters, delves into the lives and studios of Australian painters; the popularity of the podcast revealing the hunger for connection within a community of artists who often work alone.
Born in Newcastle, Stoljar was raised within a Greek family in Hamilton South. Her family and sense of connection to Newcastle sees her returning her to the city several times a year.
"I love Newcastle . . . The M1 is very well worn," she laughs.
She moved to Sydney in her 20s to complete a law degree. While studying she met her husband, before settling into a 10-year career as an insurance litigation solicitor.
That's the other side of the podcast is that it's grown a community, which I wasn't expecting.Maria Stoljar
It was when Stoljar took time off from her career to raise her family that inspiration for the Talking with Painters podcast struck. During this period away from corporate life, Maria began to explore her love of art and painting which saw her enrol in courses at Waverley Woollahra Art School and Julian Ashton Art School.
During the solitary hours in the studio she began to experience the isolation that many artists confront. She initially tried to combat it by listening to the radio, but found the constant news cycle affecting.
"I'm not a music person, I want to listen to the spoken word, so I started listening to podcasts," she says.
What followed was a search for a podcast for painters. While Stoljar found several for American artists, she couldn't find anything for Australian painters.
"That's when I thought 'OK I'm gonna do one' - which was insanity!" she says.
Without a background in media or production, she took to the project with a mind map and Google searches. Initially calling upon her own networks for interview subjects, her first guest was 1994 Archibald winner Francis Giacco, who happened to be one of her teachers at Julian Ashton Art School.
Effervescent and unremittingly warm, it is easy to see why artists are able to open up to her with their stories; the conversations often drifting into difficult times that the artists have faced.
"It's not just about painting anymore. It's about life," Stoljar says, quickly noting how important these open discussions are for others travelling the creative path.
Without a thorough training in arts education, when it comes to the podcast she proudly anti "arts speak". She believes this has helped her to create content that is relatable and interesting to people who aren't deeply arts initiated.
"I think this has meant I can be curious without being embarrassed about it," she says.
Often she spends several hours with her interviewees. In one particularly engrossing interview with Romanian-Australian artist Aida Tomescu, she found herself at Aida's studio for eight hours, and left with six hours of recorded interview.
One of Maria's most exciting interviews was with the elusive contemporary realist painter Lucy Culliton. Culliton was top of the dream interviewees list on the mind map Stoljar created when first planning Talking with Painters.
"When I first started I wasn't sure how I was going to get artists to talk to me . . . So I just googled Lucy Culliton and saw she was living in this tiny town in NSW. I sent a letter to the local post office, and you would not believe it, a few weeks later she called me!" she says.
Stoljar also enjoys the diversity of the studios in which she is welcomed into.
"When I was painting, just even seeing a photo of a painter's studio was so exciting. Now I go into artists' studios like Ken Done's harbourside studio. Next I'm visiting Natasha Walsh who's in the corner of her mother's dining room," she says.
On a personal level, Stoljar believes the knowledge of the artists she has interviewed has seeped into her own art practice.
"My own painting has improved out of sight, even though I'm not painting much. When I paint, I'm approaching it totally differently and feeling much more confident," she says, proving that perhaps shared knowledge is indeed shared power.
Now in its third year, Talking with Painters has truly infiltrated the Australian art world. This year Stoljar was amongst the media scrum for the Archibald Prize. The Talking with Painters community has also developed from podcast listeners to include strong audiences on both Instagram and YouTube.
"That's the other side of the podcast is that it's grown a community, which I wasn't expecting. I'm now thinking of ways to connect them to each other."