Christa Freehands, at Deep Roots
On a classic-Cleveland grey day in late October, I met with multi-disciplinary artist, Christa Freehands and artist-advocate and Deep Roots Experience founding director, David Ramsey at his Central neighborhood gallery to discuss Freehands’s upcoming solo exhibition “Freehands Seasons” opening on November 27. Since we met in the morning, I brought my own coffee in a mason jar wrapped with bright orange fishing line that formed a carrying handle. Freehands expressed her interest in my mug and appreciation for hand-altered objects, and we connected over a mutual need for daily coffee. After a casual conversation covering Cleveland’s (then) upcoming mayoral election, the name-change for the Cleveland baseball team and Ohio’s deep commitment to football, I asked her how she originally began making art. Freehands’s mother would provide her and her siblings with art activities at a tiny yellow plastic kids picnic table, with a primary goal of keeping them occupied, but evidently with enough variety of material and creative support that Freehands and her siblings would each find their future selves working in creative fields. In addition to the freedom of creating at home, Freehands grew up frequently visiting the Cleveland Museum of Art. From the vast collection, she referenced works of Surrealism, specifically those by Salvador Dalí, as well as a large-scale painting by French artist Jacques-Louis David: Cupid and Psyche, 1817, described by the museum wall label as, “David presents him [Cupid] as an ungainly teenager smirking at his sexual conquest [Psyche].” Regarding Cupid and Psyche, Freehands was always impressed by its sheer scale, and detailed rendering of fabric and the human form, particularly David’s ability to convey Cupid’s bratty spirit which imbues this grand historical painting with humor and wit.
It was the surrealists, however, that I see having the most enduring impact on Freehands’s visual language. She was fundamentally influenced by Dalí’s ability to depict feelings, emotions and provide a mental escape from reality through a dream-like language. Freehands also translated this emotional language to her love of fashion; growing up, she explained that was always thrifting, designing custom apparel, altering her clothes to make a statement about who she was: “I got used to standing out.” For Freehands, art and clothes are equally important—a core through line in “Freehands Seasons,”—and that includes the graphic designers and marketing surrounding the fashion brands. She says, “marketing is just as influential as painting,” in reference to the release and packaging of tennis shows like Nike’s movie popcorn series and the bacon airmax1, which was packaged in the same kind of plastic bag used for meat. Freehands’s appreciation of these subtle and oftentimes underappreciated complexities that go into making objects and putting them out into the world is deeply felt in her new series of work.
Over the past few years, Freehands has developed her own cast of characters for her brand and LLC named Goulsih World. A remix of influences from surrealism and manga graphic novels, these characters appear in both her vivid colored paintings and in her custom-made apparel. Guala, a green creature with a desire for money, girls, and power, is all about the chase; Gool, a ghostly character is meant to make you feel like something is following you around, like a chip on your shoulder, but one of which you are conscious. In several paintings, these characters are joined by human torsos with daisies for heads, undulating linear forms that transform into neon signs and graffiti, and paint drips that turn into cotton-candy-colored clouds. Freehands makes use of the whole palette of the rainbow.
For her solo exhibition, Freehands demonstrates her commitment to Cleveland. Aptly titled “Freehands’s Seasons,” the show expresses the many vibes of Freehands and the variety of her artistic influences, anchored in fashion. The largest series creating the show is Seasons of Cleveland, a multi-layered project that visualizes Freehands’s appreciation and support for Cleveland brands and streetwear through mannequins dressed in some of her favorite clothes, and four paintings based off a photo shoot in which she dons apparel by two Cleveland brands in each image. Freehands wants to keep her money in Cleveland, investing in the futures of these incredible, local streetwear brands. Included in Seasons of Cleveland is apparel by Pray 4 the prey, Bouey (a frequent collaborator of Freehands), Vilehearts, Indiemedia (“known for their ‘Fuck Anxiety’ series and hoodies in colors that invite us to express the moods we’re lacking,”) G-rated (“G-Rated brand creator Christian Cartwright passed away earlier this year. But now the brand is being managed and carried on by loving friends and family members. Mainly by his father, Julius Cartwright, who he had a great relationship with, and who has also started a foundation to help kids be stronger students called STAFF “students the athletes foundation fund”), Nyne (“Jordan from Nyne apparel is also known for super dope video works,” ) Welcome 2 the Jungle (“higher end version of streetwear with nice fabric and design basketball shorts) and Cleveland Over Everything (known for their ‘Make Cleveland Green Again’ line of reversible bucket hats and bags, “I also know they does a lot of work in Cleveland trying to improve the community, and uses that brand to promote that work.”) Freehands comments that Cleveland artists have a distinct, personal style, are friendly, and open to collaboration. She speaks highly of her recent collaborations with graffiti artists Dayz and Mr. Soul, appreciating their mentorship in her understanding of working in graffiti and murals.
At the close of our conversation, I ask Freehands what the one thing is she wants people to know about her work. She explains that her art is grounded in dreams, feelings, and expressions, highlighting mental health and stability (the reason for the flowers in her work), particularly incorporating as much of herself in the work as possible has been a way for her to understand herself better, feel better and be vulnerable with art. Freehands shares that, “in the Black community we are taught to be tough, taught that vulnerability is a weakness— some people don’t know how to talk about their emotions.” By tapping into her own emotions through her art, she is showing people how to do the same.
Nov. 27 – December 19
Deep Roots Experience
7901 Central Ave
Cleveland, Ohio 44104