A Chat with Artist David Friend
with J. Scott Bugher
Split Lip has been privileged to feature a number of world-class artists over the past couple of years. This issue's featured artist is one of the most versatile class acts we've seen in some time. He's like a seasoned guitarist willing to play simple rhythms like Kurt Cobain or, if you pay him enough, shred out some lead guitar like Jimi Hendrix. His work ranges from simple color studies to mind-boggling compositions to picture-perfect architectural drawings. The artist is fascinated by color and it shows. His color studies are quite intense and they push boundaries: How will this yellow look with this blue? What will happen if I add a hint of red in the corner? How can I mix the perfect grey? These are all questions of the artist. And when he gets crazy with a larger composition, he is intrigued by the psychology of color and form––how it affects the viewer's mind. All fascinating stuff. So let's welcome the great David Friend, who was kind enough to allow me to interview him.
David, thanks for being with us. As editor of a literary and arts journal, I am contacted by writers and artists of all kind: novelists to poets, string quartets to rock bands, photographers to sculptors and feature filmmakers to indie filmmakers. So, of all the arts, what attracted you to drawing and painting?
First I have to say I am so glad to have this interview in Split Lip Magazine and want to thank you for the opportunity.
I think I was born with a butterfly and a dragon inside of me, and they are constantly in search of ways to come out. Not that they try to leave, but rather they
want to be free. Somehow these two have survived every extinguishing and civilizing process of life and live on as the creative spirit chained to my obstinate-ness. These have found their freedom, taking wing through my art, in which I have found great joy and satisfaction. Looking back, I have always had something in my hand to create with and communicate ideas and concepts. Whether it was a pencil, paintbrush or a computer mouse––I believe for me to live means I need to create graphically, artistically and hopefully significantly.
Are you interested in or participate in any other artistic endeavors?
At my age, I have piled up a few years behind me and, over that time, have been involved with many things. Photography, for one, was always very captivating. I learned all about cameras, composition, lighting and developing film and prints early in my life. And this is good because it allows me to keep my hands on the camera while documenting the work and my pursuit of art. It is a wonderfully creative and useful interest.
Then there is music, which I grew up to love thanks to my parents. My dad played ragtime and the oldies of his generation; Mom played classical and church music. We always had an upright piano and organ in the home. Both were played a lot …and so music often wafted throughout our home's atmosphere, which, in my mind, is as welcome as the smell of a delicious homemade meal. Also when I was a teenager, my mom and dad saw my enthusiasm for the keyboard and they bought me an old baby grand piano. I played that piano constantly. My parents were the kind of people who supported me in whatever crazy notion I had, and I had a lot, but they were right there fanning the flames of my artistic and intellectual interests. I once had dreams of being a great pianist but later realized I never really had that stuff you need to make it happen. I still have that piano today, though it's broken. It’s in my studio, and I think I hang on to it because it holds so many memories of family and my growing up years.
I am also fascinated by anything architectural, and that's been a part of my life for a long time. Since before I was a teenager, there was something about buildings and the people who created them that grabbed me and never let go. Still, when I got into it, it was quite by accident. Nevertheless I spent almost 30 years working to be like those people I admired, the ones who were creators of buildings that people live out their lives in. My part was mostly drafting, designing and bringing visually to life the schemes that become buildings and surround every kind of people living their lives. I think of architecture as a very practical yet amazing art.
Our readers are most hungry to read about an artist's creative process regardless of their medium. How do you bring a visual concept to fruition? How do you know where to start? How do you know when the work is complete?
Yes, how do you take what is inside of you, those things you can visualize and are so real they're in your 'minds eye' ...how do you get them out to where others can see them too? Such a vexing question for creative people because we all live in at least two worlds: the one inside of us and the one outside of us.
I have thought about that process and think I am painting things I have seen when my eyes are closed: patterns, shapes, images, color schemes. Things I know about but aren’t on the surface of my mind. Things that come from deep down inside, perhaps?
So I wonder sometimes, is it because I look at the painting so much while it is being painted that they get imprinted on my brain and seem familiar, or is it really because when I am painting they look right because I have seen them before somewhere? With every painting, for me, this is very intriguing and I get excited when I see what has emerged in a painting session!
From a more practical perspective on the process, and from what I have been discovering as an experience when I paint, a line from The Matrix may explain it. It is where Morpheus tells Neo, "Stop trying to hit me and hit me." I have tried to paint all my life, and that was fine with me in the past, but it isn't enough for me now, and that isn't what I do now. I have stopped trying to paint. Now, I paint.
I mentioned I love music so I include it as a part of my painting routine. Then, I will put a dark colored canvas in front of me to put something on, but what? With this current series of paintings I am doing, called "Out of Your Mind," I purposely do not think about what I am painting. Not let the shouting images in my brain be stamped on the canvas but dip my brushes deeper into the colors of my mind, to where the images, like those I see when I close my eyes, are. These are allowed to emerge and develop.
What I start with will be a few marks that will initiate a series of conversations with the canvas, paint and brushes, which move me to a finale. And within the piece there will be various movements. Some fast, some slow, some beautiful and some ugly, but one mark will work for or against the next until, from a simple theme, there is a symphony of shapes and colors all working together to make the final image.
Permission to be free from the chains of failure and mistakes is a very important concept to me. I am well aware that I can paint horrible messes ...so I don't deny that. Mistakes happen, but from them come the next masterpieces. Don't bury your mistakes, understand them, even frame them (gasp!)...just be sure to learn from them!
It is then you gain freedom for your creativity, and for me, it helps the actions of my brush to become just plain intuitive, and it is like I am doing the natural thing. I am that butterfly and dragon. I am not earthbound; I can leap off a cliff and not fall. I am moving through the air and can climb and glide, dive or turn freely! This is how I feel when I am painting.
While I keep my attentions to being responsive to the development of the painting I am also turning the painting. If you look at something one way for too long, that can stunt the potential of the work so I try not to get fixated on one orientation. And when I am finished with my conversation and have said all that I want to, when the movements within the symphony seem to be harmonious and the vibe of the work feel good and is satisfying to me …it is complete.
Even when I am done with the painting, I will sit for hours and look at a photographic image of it on the computer and go through the rotation process to see which way is stronger and choose which appeals to me most. That is also the time that the title will come to me. I like to find names for my work and feel it's important. It is another way of adding to the clarity of a piece or deepening the mystery.
I named my series "Out of Your Mind" because I soon realized with art, not everybody will see and understand a painting as the artist does. And this is one of those things that intrigue me about the whole process of creating a thing and then releasing it to the public. Into the wild, as it were! You no longer have that control over it. Others will find their own understanding and see things you didn't and interrupt it in ways you could have never foreseen. You may cry or shout because of something you find in the work but another person may perceive it differently. They may hate it! You can’t worry about that. The artist should be true to the work and let it go there. It’s not really yours anyway. It can be quite scary but also very wonderful! So then the life of that creation can just go on, but it takes on its own life and that is the way it should be.
You're a moderator on the biggest web forum for artists, www.wetcanvas.com. What kind of experience has that been for you? Do you enjoy helping newer artists grow? What is your role with the web forum?
WetCanvas is a great resource for artists of every level. The members there range from successful and seasoned artists to those who have just been bitten by the art bug and are looking for ways to satisfy their artistic desires. There are over 600,000 members with more than 10 million posts in over 70 forums, often with sub forums. So you are right, it's a big forum, and that gives WetCanvas a great chance of appealing to whatever your specific art interest is. I find it to be a vast online resource for almost any art-oriented question you might come up with!
It is also a safe place to interact with other artists. I say that because with so many artists there, with every level of experience, you get helpful critiques that teach and encourage rather than mean-spirited ones that do no good. I guess, in that way, WetCanvas may not be like the real Art World, but I find it a good place for people who want to improve their techniques and appreciation of art!
As moderator of the Abstract and Contemporary Art portion, I have many duties, which keep me checking in throughout the day to keep it an orderly and enjoyable experience for all members. Sometimes members will get into public arguments and disagreements. I am also there to put out those little fires and keep them from growing into infernos. I have found that most people are there because they love art and want to know and share more about their interest.
My involvement has proved to be both energizing and rewarding. It gives me a chance to see what people are doing with their art. You see and become a part of the interaction between minds of other people who come from all over the world, and sometimes artists will explain how and why they made a piece, and it gives you insight as to how other artists are inside and why they do what they do. I have found that people are really more alike than different.
I've read some of your blog, and you mention that music plays a role when you're at work. That inclines me to ask a three-parter on all the arts. Favorite musical artist, favorite author, favorite film and why?
Music is an incredibly valuable treasure in my world, and it is hard for me to separate whether I do art so I can listen to music or because of the music I do art. It seems like a fine line sometimes but then there are times when I am working on a painting intensely and in 'the zone' but after a while, it dawns on me that the music stopped ...when, I don't know but it is stone quiet around me and yet the spell has not been broken and I continue on. Maybe the music echoes within my mind for some time until it all fades away to the silence. I don't know?
But I do prefer to have music going while I paint, it just makes everything click so well and I often find myself lost in the sounds with a brush in my hands. It is then that the brush dances. Sometimes following the beat or gliding with the melody so that the marks become like an abstract seismograph tracing the sounds that pass through my brain and flowing out through my fingertips.
It is hard to explain all this as an experience because it is so internal and so much becomes a response to the music I am listening to.
I like listening to classical music. There is just something in it that synchronizes with me. Fast, slow, whatever... it is all okay with me but, as I said before, I am especially captivated by the keyboard. I have a deep appreciation of the works of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky. There is power in the music that opens doors within me, revealing things that help me express more deeply through my art.
The classical music is not exclusive and I listen to the music I grew up on quite often. Groups like Moody blues, Creedence, the Doors, ELP, Boston, Crosby Stills & Nash, Clapton. I find myself searching the lyrics of Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel for their meaning, back then and today. I know you asked for a favorite but it is impossible to just have one with music!
Now on to books: I would say the works of Ayn Rand interest me a lot. I think it is because in works like "The Fountainhead" she shows the power of an individual's will as a force to move the world while at the same time holding on to one's integrity without any compromise of their vision and, as an artist, I have to admire that. Also the fact that Rand, herself, was a very charismatic and dynamic person with that bigger than life presence is also intriguing!
When it comes to films I feel much like I do about music, it's hard to pick one. I do know that I tend to watch my favorites over and over again to get more out of the story and become familiar with the dialog, then after that start to zero in on the characters and actions of the players.
So, let me see here ...recently I have seen the The Natural several times. In this movie I have always loved the films lighting, lots of late afternoon scenes. I am again drawn to that man against the odds theme where a one time ball player named Roy Hobbs, who is played by Robert Redford, sidetracked earlier by the events of his life, sets out once again to become the ‘best there ever was’ in the game of baseball. I love the main character and the immovable confidence, dedication and integrity …all of which in the end take him to an even higher level than he was aiming for.
My favorite part is, of course the winning home run set under the exploding night light's as they shower down firework-like sparks on everyone. The game is over ...and there is a winner!
I really appreciate you taking time to entertain a few of my questions, David. Any final thoughts before we sign off?
You have been so kind as to let me share some of my thoughts with everyone and again I want to say thank you! This has been very enjoyable.
Excellent. Thanks so much, David.