WALL\THERAPY 2013 Starts With FREEDOM in a Tunnel

BSA is totally psyched to be your source for hot exclusive images and a few scintillating stories that unfold during WALL\THERAPY, the Street Art festival anchored in Rochester, New York that is kicking off right about…. Wait! It already started! Here is your first dispatch.

FREEDOM – that’s what Street Art and graffiti means to a whole lot of people – is something that seems endangered around the world (including here), and is the name of a NYC graffiti writer who started off the 2013 Wall Therapy festival by painting in a………. wait for it…………. tunnel!

For the first time in eighteen years.

Freedom. WALL\THERAPY. Rochester, NY. July 2013. (photo © Matt DeTurck)

For those readers not familiar with Freedom Tunnel at Manhattan’s northern West End, it basically got it’s name from this guy because he held it down during the 80s and early 90s. Not only did he basically take up residency there for years, he also stretched his creative legs and let his mind free from the constraints of traditional graff lettering and style to entertain portraiture, pop art, advertising and even the Rennaissance. So how fitting that he’s debuting here in a tunnel, this time in the old Rochester subway, where he decided to return to pop influences that formed his youth.

Freedom. WALL\THERAPY. Rochester, NY. July 2013. (photo © Matt DeTurck)

There are a few artists who we identify as missing links, connective tissue, between New York’s storied graffiti history and today’s Street Art scene, and Freedom is one of them. He spoke with us about this trip back underground:

Brooklyn Street Art: In a way, it strikes us that there was more actual freedom to be yourself in this tunnel than the one that bears your name – whether because the original is now inhospitable or because it carries the weight of memories and associations, possibly even expectations. Is that true?
Freedom: When I painted in the original Freedom Tunnel from 1980 to 1995 nobody cared, and that was great for me. It allowed me to fail which I think is a big part of the artistic process. The tunnel wasn’t even called the Freedom Tunnel until 1990 and the works inside of it had no value. Today, when I do a piece there’s a whole lot more to think about.

Brooklyn Street Art: Did you scope around this tunnel for a good source of light to frame your work?
Freedom: I spent the entire morning of my first day in the tunnel finding the right spots for the paintings. Admittedly, I miss the shafts of light from the Freedom Tunnel.

Freedom. WALL\THERAPY. Rochester, NY. July 2013. (photo © Matt DeTurck)

Brooklyn Street Art: Here in Rochester you returned to a personal nostalgia with advertising art, pop art, branding and that visual vocabulary. Some of your past work has also referenced European painting tradition and with some of the new Street Artists now making similar references (like Gaia, Dan Witz, Lister’s ballerinas and even Conor Harrington) do you have any inclination to knock out something painterly once in a while?
Freedom: My large murals – even when they are painterly – are merely impressions. I like to think of them as drawings done in spray paint. If I was going to paint on a wall then I might as well go all the way and grid it and become a muralist, but that doesn’t interest me. I do more labor intensive works on canvas.

Brooklyn Street Art: Do you have a personal collection of ephemera that you are digging the most right now? Or is your collection primarily in your mind?
Freedom: If there’s one thing I found out from when they closed down the Freedom Tunnel, it is that it’s a state of mind. When I decided to go back to buried treasure from my youth I Googled images from 1965 to 1967 and I tried to find things that had stuck with me. Thirty years ago I would’ve needed a more specific object, one that I had legitimately held in my hand. Today when I pore through the images I try to find things that are indicative of a bygone era. I’m fascinated by the terrible printing of the 60s – most of it is red, white and blue. That’s what I’m in to now, although it could change.

Freedom. WALL\THERAPY. Rochester, NY. July 2013. (photo © Matt DeTurck)

BSA is very pleased to start the weeks’ coverage of Wall Therapy with the voice of Freedom himself describing his experience as an essay sparked by the memories brought back from painting in a tunnel for the first time in almost two decades. He starts off by telling us how he used to retrieve treasure through street gratings, an apt metaphor for an artist who once turned a tunnel into a museum.

“When I was a kid in the 60’s my parents wouldn’t let me off the block.

I was, however, allowed to go ‘subway fishing’ on Lexington and 88th Street because it did not require me to cross any streets. The grating I fished through was located at a bus stop – which meant there were many buried treasures including: buffalo nickels, mercury dimes, baseball cards, political buttons, matchbook covers, a Green Hornet ring – the list was endless. I was able to fish out lots of great stuff with a string, a lock and a wet piece of gum.

Freedom. WALL\THERAPY. Rochester, NY. July 2013. (photo © Matt DeTurck)

When we moved to the West Side in 1967 I dragged part of my haul with me to my new neighborhood where I traded it for other pop culture ephemera. In 1980, when I started painting in the Freedom Tunnel these images began to re-emerge. Because of their proximity to a spot where (city) Parks employees got drunk and took naps, they painted over the paintings. I moved to a different section of the tunnel.

Freedom. WALL\THERAPY. Rochester, NY. July 2013. (photo © Matt DeTurck)

Thirty-three years later I had the chance to repaint some of the images that were dear to me. The original paintings were done in silver and black – after all, who would ever think of priming a wall?

Everything has changed. These paintings are not only done in color, the bottle cap is done with transparent paint. Tape and cardboard were used to make it a little crisper, and I had an amazing assistant named Justin from the Wall Therapy team who could point out mistakes while I was still on the ladder.

Freedom. WALL\THERAPY. Rochester, NY. July 2013. (photo © Matt DeTurck)

What used to be a paranoid solitary pursuit turned into a celebration of painting.

And that’s kind of what this is about.

My favorite image in Rochester was done by an artist from Capetown. It is a long colorful arm that points to a message – ‘For the City of Rochester, Thank You!’

Add me to that list.”

Chris Pape / FREEDOM

Freedom. WALL\THERAPY. Rochester, NY. July 2013. (photo © Matt DeTurck)

Freedom pieces photographed by Matt DeTurck. All locations are in the old Rochester Subway.

Special thanks to Ian Wilson, Erich Lehman, and John Magnus Champlin.

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