In her show “Emergence,” now on exhibit at the Homer Council on the Arts, Astrid Friend’s paintings have a soft focus. Her images appear like the Kenai Mountains clouded in wispy fog. Colors from her palette reflect the light of winter, pale blues and pinks from a low sun. Some paintings have a stark contrast, though, sharp lines and bold geometric shapes that Friend said she used in her black-and-white film photography.
For Friend, the creation of her art happens the same way a print develops in the chemical bath of a darkroom. With film, the first time a photographer sees the image is as it slowly appears in the developer chemicals. The chemicals activate the light-sensitive crystals on the paper, turning them black.
“The picture comes slowly. You see something you think will stop,” she said. “I see a similarity between my painting and how the pictures in the bath evolved.”
To extend the parallel, Friend’s artist mind is like a camera, creating images in her imagination. Hand, brush, paint and canvas are like film and chemicals. The act of painting becomes like that print coming to life in the developer bath.
“I try to be focused but not too focused. You’re in this state. You let it go,” she said. “You watch what you’re doing and hold yourself back. Suddenly I see something. I get that feeling. It’s like a dream.”
Friend, 56, came to Alaska from Germany, where she was born and raised. She grew up in Ludwigshafen on Lake Constance, near the Swiss border. Kachemak Bay and its mountains remind her of Lake Constance, where she can look across a wide body of water and see mountains.
At about age 14, her teacher, the German artist, Peter Lenk, encouraged her to create from “her gut,” she said. As a girl, her drawings had been meticulous and awkward.
“It was awful. I always felt ‘I can’t do it from my gut. I don’t know what that is,’” Friend said. “I always find it funny. In the end, I’m doing what he says, doing it from my gut.”
After school, she traveled to Montreal, then London to get nurse’s training, and back to Germany and Berlin, where she got a degree in adult education. She first came to Alaska and Homer in 1994. She settled in Alaska after meeting her husband, Bruce, “over the North Pole,” she said they joke, across the aisle on a flight from Frankfurt to Anchorage. She’s been in Alaska 10 years, the last two in Homer.
Friend had worked for a publishing company that did health books. She also wrote poetry. One day she needed an illustration for a poem and thought, Why not do it herself?
“Just pick up some paints, oil paints and crayons, rub it around. I took a palette knife and scratched it around,” she said. “Pretty soon there was stuff developing on the paper. I thought it was pretty cool.”
She entered that painting in a juried exhibition and won first prize. Encouraged, she kept working on her art and had more shows.
Friend paints mostly in acrylic paints because it’s less toxic and easy to clean, though she finds the consistency and color of oil preferable. Her paintings include the palette knife technique as seen in the late R.W. “Toby” Tyler’s early and later work, but she mostly uses brushes.
No matter the medium, Friend’s art emerges from that vast mystery of the creative process.
“I work on it. Sometimes I have it right there and sometimes it changes into a picture different from what I really thought,” she said. “In your imagination you see something. Your imagination is three steps ahead and different from what your eye sees.”