Two new shows that opened last Friday at local galleries feature work by two Homer artists who, by coincidence, graduated in 2003 from Homer High School. Don’t go looking for a new school of art, though, for while both paint, the work of Maria Bernier and Holly Brennan represents diverse approaches in subject and technique.
Bernier, 35, has her work on display at the Kachemak Bay Campus, where she took art classes with Asia Freeman. Brennan, 34, is largely self-taught and has art on display at Grace Ridge Brewery.
Bernier said she has always been interested in art.
“It was always a thing I was good at,” she said. “From kindergarten on, drawing came easy to me.”
Throughout school she always took art classes. As a teenager who started owning cars, she said she didn’t like that she needed help with them, so she took auto shop in high school. After graduation she went to the Motorcycle Mechanic Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, and started a career in small engine repairs, specializing in Harley-Davidson motorcycles. In Homer she worked at All Seasons Honda, repairing four-wheelers, snowmachines and outboard engines.
“I got pretty good,” she said. “I could rebuild a Honda 225 (horsepower) outboard all the way down.”
When she and her husband, Bleu Bernier, had three small children and she stayed home to take care of them, he made her an offer.
“He said, ‘You don’t have to go back to work. What do you want to do? What would make you happy?’” Bernier said. “I want to paint.”
At KBC, Bernier took drawing and painting classes with Freeman, even if that meant being away from home at dinner time.
“He’s (Bleu) the one that will tell people … I paint 5 minutes at a time,” she said.
Because her kitchen is her studio and she paints around children, Bernier uses the medium of water-based oils.
“My palette won’t dry out on me. My canvas won’t dry out on me, but I don’t have those chemicals around the kids,” she said.
Bernier likes to paint landscapes “because they’re forgiving,” she said. “I like realism with a little impressionism in there.” Lately she’s been doing commissions of people’s pets. At first when someone asked her to paint a portrait of their dog, she didn’t feel confident enough. Then someone else asked her and she tried it, finding she could tackle the subject.
Bernier also likes painting water, especially the Anchor River near where she grew up in Anchor Point. “Chop,” a piece she did for the Bunnell Street Arts Center’s 10×10 show last year, captures the luminosity of heavy waves. For that one she used a technique called “ground,” where the artist paints a background color that “you want to underlie and creep out of the painting.” Freeman has been supportive of Bernier’s work. When Bernier told her she used ground in “Chop,” “She gave me a high five. … Part of the best moment of the show was a high-5 from Asia.”
With some commissions in her portfolio, and a few sales, Bernier wants to keep developing her career. She’s also trying to develop a signature style.
“I like to play with colors a bit, which is hard, because Asia prefers impressionism,” Bernier said. “I want to play with that, big brush strokes. It didn’t feel done until I got into those details, to be true to what I enjoy.”
“What’s my style? I don’t want to be a copycat painter,” Bernier said. “I keep hearing the word ‘calm’ come up. I have to accept, I’m a calm person. My paintings come across as calm.”
Unlike Bernier, Brennan didn’t get serious about her art until last August. About a year ago Grace Ridge Brewery co-owner Sherry Stead saw one of Brennan’s paintings on social media and invited her to do a show.
“It didn’t sound scary to sign up for something 11 months in advance,” Brennan said. “I said ‘Sure,’ and then I quit painting basically all year.”
Brennan took up painting as a way to unwind from staring at a computer all day. She had worked about 10 years at the Homer Public Library in Internet Technology. In March she started working as office manager for the Alaska Salt Company, where she runs online sales and their social media.
“I was really burned out doing things on a screen,” she said. “I wanted to do something different.”
A photographer as well, Brennan became frustrated with how colors in the camera didn’t look the same as in real life. “Winter Sunrise Over the Bay,” a painting of a Homer sunset, is an attempt to put in paint what her eye sees.
“I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if it was this color and that color,” she said. “Instead of doing Photoshop — which would be another thing on a screen — I decided to do painting.”
To learn color theory and mixing acrylic paints, she took a free 3-hour class online at the library website through winda.com.
“I figured out how to look at a color,” Brennan said. “Sometimes it turned out to be a little bit of trial and error and I wasted paint.”
All but one of the paintings in her Grace Ridge show are done from photographs. Some look abstract, like “Spit Buddy,” a painting of Connex containers on the Spit.
“I was pretty confident I could pull it off, or there was something I wanted to brighten up or enhance,” Brennan said of her technique. “There were things that were colorful. It’s got to be colorful.”