While Anthony Freda is an illustrator for publications like The New York Times and The Village Voice (mostly creating political drawings) it’s obvious that the cover image of a mandala is quite a departure. Sanskrit for “circle,” the object represents what’s good about the world, and we especially welcome it now, considering the many recent upheavals both here and abroad.
The mandala is a potent, yet subtle image. Freda’s political drawings, however, are also powerful but not subtle. For example, there’s his blackbird sitting on a man’s two fingers, which are making the peace sign. There’s only one thing wrong: one finger is missing. Another illustration shows Uncle Sam’s finger with a screw attached, bearing down upon a small silhouetted figure. It’s apparent that Freda is committed to all kinds of societal causes, his subjects and themes deriving from varied sources including historical references and cartoon characters.
Q: Pardon me for asking, but are there people who feel uncomfortable with your work?
A: Yes. I get accused of doing “dark stuff.” What I do is political stuff with references to Americana. I feel passionate about anti-war issues and civil rights causes.
Q: So what role do you think your art plays?
A: I use art as catharsis. And I use my artwork to expose these guys in mainstream media who do pro-war material.
Q: How do you do that besides your illustrations in venues like Rolling Stone and The New York Times? And can you give us some examples of your anti-war subjects?
A: My illustrations are on a lot of blogs and deal with matters like the escalation in Afghanistan and drone bombings in Pakistan.
Q: What motivated you in the first place to start creating political/anti-war art?
A: I think I got interested in doing political art when President Bush instituted his preemptive strike in Iraq.
Q: But it wasn’t when you were in art school that you first developed a taste for political art?
A: No, I was always interested in political art even when I was studying illustration at Pratt. My favorite painting was always “Guernica.” Goya and Picasso are my favorites.
Q: Pratt was important because you learned your craft there, but what else did it mean to you in terms of your awareness of life?
A: I grew up in Port Jefferson, so moving to Brooklyn when I was at Pratt was a big awakening. I was only 17 when I moved there from an affluent place. I learned how to take care of myself; it’s survival of the fittest. I saw how the other half lived. There were racial tensions at the time; it was a war zone. Friends of mine were killed.
Q: You lived in the East Village in the early 1980s, too. How did this effect you?
A: Life in Tompkins Park was the same war zone, showing inner-city blight.
Q: Did you come into contact with Basquiat or Haring in the East Village?
A: I ran into plenty of Haring’s art on the subway. I should have taken it.
Q: Did these experiences influence your political awareness?
A: Yes. I grew up where everything was fine and went to places where everything was not fine.
Q: After Pratt, what did you do?
A: I started an advertising art studio that lasted 10 years. I started in a basement in Queens and went on to a place in Manhattan. But I got tired of drawing beer bottles.
Q: Then you became a freelance illustrator. But you are also a mentor for illustration students at F.I.T. and The School for Visual Arts. What do you tell the students?
A: I try and tell them what to expect. I learned the hard way; I didn’t know how to earn a living when I graduated. We didn’t learn about the business of illustration in school so now I have the opportunity to give these students some answers. They are getting nervous about jobs and huge student loans. They will have a rude awakening when they are out in the world.
Q: What are your goals in the next 10 years now that you have learned a lot of life’s lessons?
A: I want to create a masterpiece, my version of “Guernica,” that becomes iconic. I’m not saying I am Picasso. I’m going to aim for something like “Guernica” and see what happens.
Anthony Freda’s work can be seen on his website: anthony.freda.com.