Athen B. Studio artist John Felix Arnold III has been doing a bit of traveling and recently caught up with our old friend Adam Friedman in his Portland studio a few weeks back. Check out the full interview / studio visit below and stay tuned for more interviews coming to the Athen B. Blog!
What can be said about Adam Friedman? Intensely driven, undeniably hard working, deeply contemplative, thoughtful and intentional are just some of the words that come to mind when I think about this artist. He has been carving out his place in the art world, and in my opinion in art history, one deeply felt and evolved stage at a time since I met him in 2006. His work has become a true vision pushing the psychedelic, deeply internal visionary arena of the art world yet challenging the history of landscape painting and romanticism which seems to run deep in his roots. This marriage connects him to the voice of the natural world moving through him onto the canvas. To me he is a conduit or channel for an energy that exists at the confluence of technology, romantic intensity and feeling, the raw power of nature and the connection we humans have to the psychedelic realms of collective consciousness, allowing him to realize extraordinary visions as only he can.
Having him come from a dark foreboding sensibility when we first met into this explosion of color and total symbiosis with the natural world around him has been for an intense point of inspiration and amazement for myself. He beholds the landscape, the mountain, the formations of the natural world in way that allows for us to not only embrace nature's beauty in the seen world, but also to truly explore the unseen energy and power behind that we all feel. He is as capable and skilled in evoking natures power as Thomas Moran or Frederic Edwin Church yet takes it further into a realm of surrealism and psychedelia I have never quite witnessed in the way he presents it.
I recently went on a road trip to Portland where I was able to take a few studio shots from his basement in house work space. He was in Iceland at the time doing research for a work grant that he was awarded. I sent him some questions about his work and here is what he had to say...
John Felix | We met in 2006 at SFAI, what had your art making life been like before we crossed paths? What sort of direction did you see yourself heading in and what would you say were your core inspirations?
Adam Friedman | Yeah man! 2006 feels like forever ago, huh? I guess I was pretty young. I went straight from undergrad into grad school without any sort of break in between. I went to college at U or Oregon and towards my BFA year I was primarily focusing on printmaking. All I really knew is that I needed access to facilities and wanted to keep working. So I thought grad school was the best option. I guess you could say that I went for the wrong reasons...
I lived in the Bay Area when I was young and always loved SF. I got into a couple schools in the Bay and decided on SFAI. I really had no idea how my practice would evolve, how I'd make a living, etc. Since I was a little kid I've been obsessed with nature. I always drew mountains, oceans and landscapes. But my work going into 2006 was more figurative and narrative.
How have those things changed as we have come into 2016?
Once I got to SF, it didn't take long before my work and the ideas behind it began to change. I started working my way slowly back to painting and eventually removing the figure from the landscape all together. Getting out of school in 2008 was crazy because it was literally the first time since I was 5 years old that I wasn't a student anymore. It was crazy and shit got pretty real (even though I had an almost 40 hour per week job while in school). It was tough, but honestly so important for my studio practice.
Since about 2008 or 9, I seem to have labored over various bodies of work. Its a slow evolution, but every couple years, I'd try to push things forward a bit and make some changes. I've had the opportunity to present solo shows in some really cool spaces, so every big show was kind of a new thing for me. You know how it is, just always questioning things and trying to progress. But as 2016 is coming and going, I feel more stable and my vision seems to be coming more and more into focus. I've been full time in the studio (with no other gigs) for about 12 months now... so that's something!
You have always had a poetically epic quality to your work, yet the subject matter has changed over the years, what would you say drives this sort of romantic vision of yours that carries through periods of your practice?
As I mentioned, I've always been interested in the natural world. Specifically how humans being understand and relate to it. That basic and broad sentiment still drives my work, but my specific inspirations and areas of research within that have changed with each body or work. I started a new series for some upcoming shows and the works have been really focused on technology and how that affects our experience of nature.
We all want to know, your fascination with mountains and rugged terrain, where does it all come from?
Well, I'm originally from the North Shore of Lake Tahoe, deep in the sierras. So I've literally always been surrounded by the mountains. But for me, the mountain is the ultimate symbol of the sublime, the raw power and brute force of nature. So beautiful and so foreboding. I'm a romantic at heat. haha.
Who would you say you looked to as a youth that gave a sense of awe and wonder and a yearning to be a part of the great lineage of landscape artists?
I grew up with art and art books in the house... but I started finding my own artistic interests in jr. high. I started listening to a bunch of punk rock and metal and was really into the album artwork. I tried to draw that way for a long time. I learned about surrealist painters like Dali, and Ernst and decided I had to learn how to paint. A lot of those album covers and surrealist paintings have a lot of landscape reference, which is probably why I was so into it.
If you could curate what to you would be a most powerful exhibition who would you call on and why?
Oh man, that's such a tough question. I could probably write forever about it... so I'll try to keep it simple. Last winter I was in Miami for Basel week with Mirus Gallery. I also participated in a group show curated by Hannah Stouffer and Sarah Potter. Hannah was talking with me about her curatorial influences for the show and she used the term, "New Futurism." I loved that and it really stuck with me. With the rapid pace of technology, I think Futurism is almost more relevant now than ever. Its insane and it moves faster and faster. When we were kids, there was no internet, emails, or cell phones. Its all so new, but has also changed everything (for better and for worse). Somehow it feels like its always been this way and we can't imagine the world without the tech anymore. But as we've been talking about, I'm also really into Romanticism. I'd love to curate a show where the work deals with contemporary concepts rooted in these two art and thought movements... Maybe call it "Romantic Futurism???" How is the human experience of nature, life, and philosophy affected through the ever changing lens of technology? And how does that affect out humanity? To be honest, these are concepts I'm dealing with in my own work, so I'd have to do some research out there to figure out which artists to include.
Living in Oregon, what sort of daily relationship do you have with the natural world?
A pretty major one. One of my favorite things about living in Portland is seeing all of the insane mountains that loom over the area. Mt Hood is the closest, and its literally the most ideal looking mountain. When you ask a child to draw a mountain, they draw Hood. The accessibility of nature here is absolutely insane. There are forests within the city limits. I live in NE and ride my motorcycle out into the Columbia Gorge almost weekly. I try to spend as much time camping, hiking, swimming, and playing in the snow as possible!
When we first met I noticed a dark curiosity, cynicism and question raising element to your work, a very narrative thread almost a dark harbinger or way of addressing life. Now you have gone full force into a color filled, romantic, beautiful depiction of raw power and energy. Where did this shift come from and what is informing your vision now that has brought forth something so universal and so powerful, raw, and needed?
Like I said, I was pretty young in 2006. I think I still had a lot of that youthful, punk rock / metal angst. While I still believe that I've held on to a lot of those original influences, I've also grown up a lot and my influences are more varied. But times have also changed so much since 2006. I know there are and always will be trends in the art world, and I typically feel like an outsider. But I truly believe that works and inquiries into nature, the cosmos... bigger picture issues... are more important now than ever.
Adam lives and works in Portland, Oregon. You can find his work at http://artbyadamfriedman.com
Interview and Studio Photos by John Felix Arnold III for Athen B
Photos of Work supplied by Adam Friedman