The DART Interview: Anthony Freda

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday June 20, 2019

Peggy Roalf: Which came first, the brush or the pen?

Anthony Freda: For me, the pen is the essential tool. It is a sixth finger that leaves a mark.

PR: Please describe your work process—is most of your work done directly, or do you also use digital media? 

AF: Usually I start by working traditionally, then scan the piece and proceed to save the good parts and enhance the rest in Photoshop.

PR: I noticed that you have moved towards doing editorial illustration in the 3D—Shrine to American Pop Culture, for example. Could you tell the readers about how this shift originated, and in general, how this work grew out of your practice of combining vintage and new materials?  

AF: I have always wanted to create three-dimensional versions of my 2-D imagery. I made a collection of small figurine assemblages, but the work needed to be more substantial. Building a six-foot shrine containing hundreds of figures and dozens of narratives provided an opportunity to create a work that makes an impact due to its scale and scope. I hope that the detail and complexity of this “assemblage” (which I made in collaboration with Nick Chiechi), will engage the viewer.

PR: What are some of your creative inspirations—artists, music, literature, culture in general—that you draw from in your work?

AF: Lately, the work of Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) has been a powerful inspiration. McLuhan warned us of the fallout that would come from the technotronic revolution. “With the arrival of electric technology,” writes McLuhan, “man extended, or set outside himself, a live model of the central nervous system itself. This is a development that suggests a desperate and suicidal autoamputation, as if the central nervous system could no longer depend on the physical organs to be protective buffers against the slings and arrows of outrageous mechanism.” In the visual arts, I am humbled daily by the number of brilliant artists working in our global village. A combination of inspiration and envy keep me motivated to grow.

PR: What is there about the human skull as a source of imagery that has always fascinated artists, and you in particular? 

AF: Obviously, the skull has fascinated artists since cultures started forming. The skull reminds us of the transient nature of life, but I do not have a morbid obsession with death. Quite the opposite; in fact, I see the skull as a potent reminder to fully engage in life. Every skull piece I make is a future self-portrait, and a portrait of every human under the skin. 



PR: Your work has always had a strong graphic style that seems related to printmaking. But recently you have been doing some work that brings in a painterly, almost romantic quality that combines with imagery that suggests the woodblock print. Could you talk a bit about how this expressive take materialized in the Narcissus piece (above)?

AF: I love to collaborate with artists whose work compliments mine. The Narcissus piece was a joint effort with my long-time friend and artistic partner, Dan Zollinger. By juxtaposing our contrasting styles, a creative tension is formed in the work. Merging very different approaches into one piece is an exciting challenge. 

PR: Do you keep a sketchbook? If yes, how does that contribute to your work process?

AF: My sketchbooks might be perceived as the diaries of a madman by some but journaling my dreams and scribbling ideas for projects keeps me sane. Writing forces me to transform disjointed ruminations into coherent narratives.



PR: Where do you live and how does that place contribute to your creative work? 

AF: I live and work in a house that once served as a convent. I try and work outside whenever the weather permits. Forest bathing in my backyard gives me a powerful connection to the creative life-force of nature. We also have an apartment on the 43rdfloor in Brooklyn; looking out the window allows connection with the combined energy of millions of people—it is almost overwhelming. 

PR: Please describe your workspace and how it contributes to the illustrator’s basic condition of working alone. 

AF: I am surrounded by picturesof my wife, the talented landscape designer Amber Freda, and my son. They are my greatest inspirations and keep me company on lonesome days.

PR: What kind of breaks do you take when working to a deadline?

AF: Walking. I go on autopilot when walking, so my subconscious takes me where it wants to go. 

PR: How do you know when the art is finished—or when to stop working on it? 

AF: Some pieces are never done. I know I can improve them and want to rework the art. For assignments, the deadline makes me stop.

PR: What would be your dream job—the one thing you have always hoped for in an assignment? 

AF: The best jobs are the ones where the work does not have an obvious connection to the assignment. I am happy to get all the work that comes my way, but the more mystery, the more the viewer is invited to engage in a conversation with me and the art, the more I love the gig.

Anthony Freda works as an artist, curator and serves as adjunct faculty at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. In addition to many mainstream media clients, such as The Nation and The New York Times, he also contributes to many alternative news websites and publication. In 2006 The Village Voice commissioned Freda to illustrate a story about people who challenge the official 9/11 narrative; the artwork has since become part of the permanent collection of the US National September 11th Museum in New York.
Facebook: Anthony Freda Studio


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