Anthony Freda’s illustrations may be familiar to you. They’ve shown up in Time and The New Yorker, in the Rolling Stone and Esquire and Playboy, and more ‘serious’ publications like Business Week and The New York Times. His work at once speaks to contemporary issues of America at war, problems of patriotism, and harkens to earlier decades in which we’ve struggled with the same issues. His work is immediately accessible to any kind of viewer, even those who may not want to consider the deeper messaging. Being the art dork I am I wanted to know first about why he chose to speak to issues this way, and then about why he chose those issues in particular.
Amanda: Let’s start by talking about the physical objects, what media do you use to make these illustrations and what draws you to them?
Anthony: I like to work on found surfaces because I find that they have a character to them and a quality that I really can’t create when I’m starting with a blank piece of canvas. I especially like old objects. I scour from flea markets for them. I like to work on old like 19th century school slates. I did a series of work on actual school slates that were held by children in the 19th century. They have this history and weathered worn quality. I love found wood and found objects for the fact that they have this history and kind of beautiful quality of warm feeling to it. I like to create my own imagery commenting on what is going on in today’s society but at the same time making it feel like it’s something that’s been around for awhile.
Amanda: What actual paints do you use?
Anthony: I like to use flat acrylic paint. I try to stay away from anything with gloss on it. So I choose muted tones and use a limited palette if I can – colours like black and burnt umber. I use the wood as a middle ground and pick up highlights from there.
Amanda: How long did you do regular illustrations before you were drawn to doing pieces that spoke to particular issues?
Anthony: It came about organically because for my illustration assignments I’d be asked to do political pieces. I did a lot of pieces for the Op-Ed pages of the Times and all those stories are political. I would do pieces for other magazines like Time or Business Week, and sometimes pieces would have political content in them and I just found myself getting immersed in these stories where almost everything had some sort of political character to it.
I think illustration is best when I can use that platform to get my own point of view across. I’m given the opportunity to do it, so I may as well steer the art to where I have a chance to have my voice heard. I think that’s the best illustration, that’s the most personal. Within a framework of, you know, whatever latitude the art director will give you. The more I did those assignments, the more I found that when political issues would come up and I didn’t get an assignment I would self assign myself these projects and create my own work and show it in galleries. But I would approach it like an assignment, because that’s the way my mind thinks. It’s nice not to have an art director sometimes.
Amanda: Allow your imagination to be a little more free.
Anthony: Yeah, and not worry about being censored or if you’re going to offend anybody. Now be worried about anything really.
Amanda: What shows have you done with your art, and along what themes?
Anthony: I did a one man show in a gallery in Las Vegas called Trifecta Gallery and a show last year called All That Glitters, and this year I did another show Work Makes You Free, and I’m in a group show this December with a bunch of illustrators.
I am definitely lucky that I can do my commercial work and my more personal work and have found venues for both of those.
Amanda: What issues do you find yourself most strongly drawn to? When you’re reading and learning and finding yourself really needing to say something – what causes that?
Anthony: There’s no shortage of things that inflame my passions. I’m one of these people, like anybody, where we have our political discussions with our friends and our passions are inflamed. I didn’t want to be just somebody yelling at a friend or arguing at a bar. I wanted to take that energy and channel it into my artwork or else it just seemed to be a waste. My best work is where you can feel that I really do care about these issues. My “Don’t Tase Me, World Peace” painting came after I read that story about the college kid that was tased in Florida. I saw the video of it and it made me disgusted. It made me want to do something, it’s just wrong. The guy’s on the ground with four officers on him and clearly restrained and not a threat to anybody and they just tortured him, you know? Why weren’t people more outraged? Why weren’t the students there more outraged?
Overall, definitely anti-war issues. There’s just not enough anti-war message out there. There’s just so much media and most of it is not really touching on the subject of why are we there or what are we doing. Is this helping or making things worse? There’s a lot of misguided patriotism.
Amanda: It does seem there is a lot of confusion between supporting our troops and supporting our war.
Anthony: Yeah, somehow it got mixed up. Like if you don’t want people to be killed for no reason then you’re un-patriotic – which is the opposite, I think. When my government lies about why they send our troops to die they’re the ones that are un-American. These poor kids are going over there, dying. I mean, people went to Iraq thinking they were avenging 9/11. 60% of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. It was all lies, all distortion, all cynically told to manipulate people and use their patriotism against them.
So like I say, torture and war just make me sick. I have a little boy and I think about where he’s going to be. Ten years from now he’ll be of military age and God knows what kind of lies they’ll be coming up with for the next series of wars.
Amanda: What kind of reactions do you get from people who are looking at your art? Does it start particular conversations?
Anthony: It does. It’s interesting when I have a show I can stand back and listen. I recently started a blog to try to get some feedback. By and large people who comment on my work on Facebook, people who are at my shows, and people who have written about my work really seem to get it. I think some of it is shocking to people and some of it is provocative, but it’s meant to be. The fact that I’ve gotten in a lot of competitions — my work has been recognized by the American Illustration and Society of Illustration — makes me feel like people know what they’re talking about and it spurs me on to keep creating more.
I got an email from Cindy Sheehan saying that she loved my work, so that really buoyed my spirits.
Amanda: Are you working on any new shows?
Anthony: I have a group show coming up in December in Trifecta Gallery in Las Vegas, and I’m actually doing a new series of paintings. I don’t want everything to be dark, I try with most of my work to have some humour that keeps it from being too dogmatic or too strident. I’ll put something that’s funny next to something series to keep some balance. So I’m doing a series of paintings of dogs in burkas; “Barkas”, I’m calling them. There’s a political message in there but I also don’t want it to be taken too seriously. I don’t want to be a complete downer. I want my art to make people laugh as well as make people think. It’s a hard balance to come to when you’re talking about serious issues, because you don’t want to be disrespectful.