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Astrid Francis at “Resin” in Hermosa Beach

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“The Rainbow Bridge,” by Astrid Francis

Where is the Monkey? Do you see the Monkey?

Rafael McMaster opens “Resin,” and Astrid Francis is among the featured artists

by Bondo Wyszpolski

Easy Reader LiveMarket

Earlier this year, when Rafael McMaster talked energetically about revitalizing the Hermosa Beach art scene, at least one local writer remained skeptical. Many galleries and gallerists have tried; few have enjoyed enduring success. But McMaster, like his nearby colleagues at ShockBoxx, Michael Collins and Laura Schuler, has been making a go of it, combining new and emerging artists along with a handful of supremely talented artists doing first-rate work.

McMaster’s latest show, “Resin,” with 50+ artists, opens Saturday at Hermosa Design (618 Cypress Ave.), and while it’s largely tilted towards surf art (being subtitled “at the intersection of art & surf”), what’s on view covers a wide range of styles and subject matter. One of the artists, represented by three significant paintings, is Astrid Francis. She’s the wife of photographer Bob Francis, who’s also in the show and known widely for his large flower portraits.

Astrid Francis. Photo by Bondo Wyszpolski

However, it’s Astrid whom I’ve wanted to write about, because a couple of years ago she chanced upon a new style of painting that’s been very well received, including recently at the Palos Verdes Art Center where one piece, “The Wedding Party,” was awarded top honors.

Scraping by

Astrid Francis moved to the United States from Germany when she was 25. Although she appreciated art from a very early age, went to museums and bought art books, it wasn’t until after she’d come to America that her passion for art intensified.

She worked in the creative department of advertising agencies and says, “I was always exposed to illustrators and art directors; and then I married an art director.” That art director, of course, is her husband Bob. They live locally, on Seventh Street in Hermosa.

However, as anyone knows who has tried to hold down a full-time job while creating viable art, it’s just not so easy. But finally, four years ago, Astrid retired. And then, regarding her pursuit of art…

“When I retired I went for it full-blast. Immediately.”

That’s not to say she’d been creatively idle all that time. She’d taken art classes at the PV Art Center in pottery. Then, for about three or four years she taught herself the art of jewelry design. While more of a craft than an art, per se, Astrid had a fair amount of success selling her wares in Santa Monica.

“Konfetti #7,” by Astrid Francis, on display in “Resin”

“Reflexionen #4,” by Astrid Francis, on view in “Resin”

Two months after retirement, though, she signed up for a painting class, again at the PV Art Center, and her main influence or inspiration was the contemporary German artist Gerhard Richter. Richter, born in 1932, is a multi-talented painter, but it was his scraping technique (I’m guessing like the 12 large “Wald” paintings shown at the Getty in 2006) that really appealed to Astrid.

This sort of work is most definitely abstract in nature, but occasionally, as in a Rorschach test, one may imagine a splotch or a squiggle that resembles a person, an animal, or some other object from the real world (and, whenever we use the word “real” in an art piece, we always do so carefully, with pincers or tongs).

Well, truth be told, Astrid seems to be quite good at seeing things that others don’t. She recounts how, in the slate stones of the upstairs fireplace where she lives, she’d wake up and see a rooster. “I almost [wanted] to get up and outline it. That was before I started painting.”

These Richter-derived or inspired works took more time than a casual glance might indicate. Husband Bob says she’d spend a good week or even more on them.

“I actually did spend a couple of weeks on some of them,” Astrid admits. “Some have 15, 16 coats (of paint) with the squeegee, because when I wasn’t happy with the color I’d just add a new color. Sometimes I ruined it that way, but…” She sort of shrugs as if to say that’s the chance you take.

I mentioned above that it was a couple of years ago that Astrid found or evolved a new style of painting. She shows me the transition piece, it’s called “I Only Dance in Red,” and then explains what happened.

It was another squeegee-like canvas, but she wasn’t so keen on the result. So she brought out a black marker and “I started doodling, and I went on and on.” She’d seen images of various objects (a human arm, for instance) and had begun to outline them. In the end, the work resembled a hybrid of what she’d been doing and what she was about to do.

“The Wedding Party,” by Astrid Francis, recently won first place at the Palos Verdes Art Center and sold on opening night

Taking a new path

The newer work comes about in a certain manner. “I mix colors and put them on the canvas and let them dry,” Astrid says. “I manipulate the canvas while the paint is still wet and I move it around a little bit because it runs thick, in different directions. Once it stops running I let it dry for a couple of days.”

In one instance, she recalls walking by with a cup of coffee in her hand and scrutinizing the work, “I’m thinking, ‘There’s a monkey in there.’ And I showed it to Bob. ‘Bob, do you see that monkey?’ He goes, ‘No, I do not see a monkey.’” And everyone can’t help but laugh.

“Starry Night,” by Astrid Francis, is a recent work

Other people she might ask wouldn’t necessarily see the monkey or any other creature either, but no matter. If the artist sees a monkey, and entices it into a little more clarity, then there’s a monkey there, right?

Astrid’s then-teacher at the PV Art Center, Frank Minuto, encouraged her to forego Richter and instead pursue her own path. “He said, ‘You have found something else and I want you to go in that direction.’ And that’s what I did.”

The new work is unique, but it does have precedents: “I’m a big fan of Joan Miró; he speaks to me,” Astrid says. “I also really look at Paul Klee and [Wassily] Kandinsky. But Joan Miró.” She pauses. “There’s something there where we shake hands.”

Others may be reminded of Native American beadwork, and I’m also reminded of Los Angeles artist Ynez Johnston, whose work has been displayed at the Norton Simon Museum.

Astrid shows me one piece and says it took her about six weeks to complete.

“It’s a lot of work. Tiny dots. It’s very time-consuming.”

One look at the intricacy, and who could doubt the amount of effort that goes into it?

“I don’t work eight hours a day,” she adds, “because it’s too tedious. I do about three hours a day.” After that, the eyes start to go haywire.

Astrid Francis. Photo by Bondo Wyszpolski

Astrid and Bob Francis showed Rafael the work, three pieces each, that they hoped to exhibit, and Rafael apparently didn’t hesitate or argue their choices. I’m sure he knows that with Astrid and Bob he’ll have some topnotch work, and work that’s sure to elicit praise and approval from those who step into the gallery.

Now, here’s what Rafael has to say about “Resin,” and how it came to be:

“The ‘Resin’ show was a concept created by local Steve Reneker who wanted to create a space where art culture and surf culture intersect. Since both art resin and surf resin are native to those communities, he felt that the title captured the essence of the vision. Steve reached out to me as the co-founder of the HB artist collective, and we began bringing the vision to life. Becker surfboards provided us with 10 boards for our fine artists to paint, and we reached out to the South Bay community of artists and photographers to see who wanted to be involved.”

And in the future?

“We look forward to partnering with the local shaper community to grow the event yearly,” Rafael says, “and are already working on plans for next year’s end-of-summer celebration.”
Resin opens Saturday with a reception from 4 to 9 p.m. at Hermosa Design, 618 Cypress Ave., Hermosa Beach. The show closes Saturday, Sept. 9, also 4 to 9 p.m., with a raffle and ‘best in show’ winners. Mister Mudd will provide live music. More at hbartistcollective.org. ER

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