Karla Freeman is no stranger to the Homer arts community.
She lived in Homer for more than 40 years painting, teaching and caring for her family. Her husband, Carlos Freeman, designed and built their home 11 miles out East End Road where they raised three daughters in their “cabin in the woods.” She also cared for children from distant places “whose parents wanted them to have an Alaskan experience.”
For the past six years, Freeman has lived in Baja, Mexico.
The contrast between Alaska and Mexico is evident in her paintings currently on exhibit at Bunnell Street Arts Center.
“Mexico is full of color from its flowers to the faces of its people, the color of their clothes and houses. It makes for a lovely balance, knowing well Alaska’s long winters of whitened rainbows.
“Often in the midst of Mexico’s colors, I am happy to recall the winter colors I knew, so subtle and quiet,” she says.
While there may be differences in the colors she finds, Freeman has found similarities between Baja and Homer — “folks who are game for life, independent thinkers who enjoy a road less taken.”
Freeman taught art at the Kachemak Bay Campus and established a space there for art activities. She was a substitute teacher in the Quest Program at the junior high school and taught preschool at McNeil Canyon Elementary School. She also was an independent radio producer for several years for KBBI in its early days.
Her life in Alaska was a world apart from the one she had grown up with.
“In retrospect, I realize the wonderful contrasting challenges Alaska offered a young woman from New York City,” she says.
The view of Kachemak Bay was quite different from her view from the fourth floor of a Manhattan building. Both of her parents were artists and part of Greenwich Village’s intellectual scene. Many of their friends were involved in the New York School of Painting, which focused on the process of painting. Her parents knew many artists early in their careers who later became famous, she says.
Considering her upbringing, her decision to become an artist was not surprising.
It’s also not surprising that her daughter, Asia Freeman, was influenced by her mother’s passion for the arts and became a landscape painter herself.
Asia also teaches in the room that her mother created at KBC that offers a wonderful space with a sunny exposure for different art activities. Her mother’s influence also is evident in her desire to help other artists by providing a place to exhibit their artwork at the Bunnell Street Arts Center where Asia is the executive and artistic director. Karla also designed and helped build the home where Asia and her husband now live.
Karla’s early education helped lay the foundation for her art career. She attended the High School of Music and Art. On Saturdays she attended the Art Students League in Manhattan. She had a portfolio of drawings upon her high school graduation.
“High school had really prepared me for college. It was a public academic school with an emphasis in art and music, a lot like some charter schools today,” she said.
She left New York for Boston University and then the University of California Berkeley graduating with a double major in fine art and art history. She went on to get a master’s degree in fine art at UC Berkeley.
Karla especially enjoyed art history that involved fascinating visual histories of civilizations. However, the art history classes at UC Berkeley were huge (around 400). From her experience in high school, she much preferred small art studio settings, so she began focusing on these classes.
“This points to the smaller classes one can take right in Homer before going ‘away’ to college. There is more one-on-one and it’s less expensive,” she says.
Karla has had solo exhibits of her artwork in California, Mexico and Alaska. Throughout her career she has received numerous grants, commissions, fellowships and awards. She is represented in several galleries and many group exhibitions including travelling exhibitions.
Recent Alaska exhibits include one at Alaska Pacific University, Bunnell Street Arts Center, Homer Council on the Arts and the Pratt Museum.
For the last 10 years, Freeman has been using water-based oils because they dry faster than regular oils and because they are not toxic.
Some of the roads her work have taken include fabrics, collage, oil pastels, mono printing, sculpture and etching.
“Often materials were dictated by what I could afford, some a happy accident. Being receptive to the unintended allows for a bigger palette in all the arts. I have always loved pure color. Just as one uses words intentionally, so one can use color. Subtle color can be as intentional and as direct as unmixed color from a tube,” she says.
When asked about her current exhibit on canvas and linen, she says “A loaded palate knife slides easily over a smooth surface or support. Some linens are smoother than others, smoother than canvas. I adore the buttery quality of oil paint.”
Karla Freeman’s exhibit is at the Bunnell gallery until Oct. 2.