Based in Long Island, Freda works as an editorial illustrator, visual political activist and as part of the adjunct faculty of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. In addition to many mainstream clients, such as Time, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone and The New York Times, he has also earned a reputation as the go-to artist for many alternative news websites and publication, such as Code Pink, Activist Post, Washington’s Blog, Global Research, Cindy Sheehan’s The Soapbox and The Trends Journal. In 2006 Village Voice commissioned Freda to illustrate a story about people who challenge the official 9/11 narrative, which artwork has since become part of the permanent collection of the US National September 11th Museum in New York.
"Anthony Freda’s art is a flower in the barrel of a shotgun but a bullet in the mouth of politics. He is fearless and fierce and years from now, when we look back on this moment in history, his art will be an accurate snapshot.
Julian Charles: Hello everybody! Julian Charles here of themindrenewed.com coming to you as usual from the depths of the Lancashire countryside here in the UK, and today I am delighted and indeed honored to be speaking with the, I think, hugely talented artist and political activist, Anthony Freda. Now let me just share this quote by Ira Hawkins: “Anthony Freda’s art is a flower in the barrel of a shotgun but a bullet in the mouth of politics. He is fearless and fierce and years from now, when we look back on this moment in history, his art will be an accurate snapshot, a picture of what we should never forget lest history repeat itself.” Anthony Freda is based in Long Island and works as an editorial illustrator, visual political activist and as part of the adjunct faculty of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. He has many prestigious clients in the mainstream such as: Time, the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and he has earned something of a reputation as the go-to artist for many alternative news websites and publications such as: Code Pink, Activist Post, Washington’s Blog, Global Research, Cindy Sheehan’s The Soap Box, and Gerald Celente’s The Trends Journal, and now he joins us today I’m very pleased to say. Anthony, welcome to the show.
Anthony Freda: Thank you, Julian, great to be here.
JC: It’s great to have you on. Thank you for agreeing to come on The Mind Renewed, and I have of course our mutual friend, John Massaria, to thank for putting us in touch and, of course, it was through John that I became aware of your work, although no doubt I will have seen your work on various websites without even knowing that it was by you, but I guess it was really when I saw John’s film of you submitting your piece called Questions, a 9/11 truth-questioning artwork, and you submitted that to the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York; that’s when I really became aware of your work, and I certainly want to ask you about that experience in a few minutes as we get going. But let’s start with you. How is it that you came to be a visual artist? Is that something that you always wanted to be from your childhood, or did your life experience lead you in that direction perhaps unexpectedly?
AF: Well, I think we all tend to gravitate towards our strengths, and it was something that I had a natural affinity towards, and something I was good at as a child. I was always the kid who was the best kid in our class, so I figured why fight nature and why go against the grain, and I enjoyed it tremendously and I seem to have a natural talent for it, so I just went along with that flow and tried not to fight against it.
JC: And then you studied it through into college, and when you came out of college I understand that you went into the business world. Is that right?
AF: Yes, I went to Pratt in Brooklyn. I started trying to make it as an artist but realized I was out of my depth and I really didn’t have enough wisdom or experience to make a career as an artist, so I started working for an advertising art studio just to kind of learn the business in the trenches. It was a grueling 90-hour week that we worked with very little pay and very demanding, but it was great because it really forged you as an artist, as an applied artist, learning that you’re going to have deadlines and responsibilities, you’re going to have to make concessions because as an artist you can’t be a perfectionist. This is a commercial product you’re producing and it has to be within the parameters and to the satisfaction of the client more than to your own personal satisfaction. It was rigorous but it was a great training ground for me. I learned more there than I did in the four years at Pratt I think. I went into it semi-reluctantly because I wanted to make a living as an artist; I didn’t want to be broke – the classic starving artist scenario – and I also wanted to justify the fact that we had spent a significant amount of money on my education, so I went into advertising just to prove that this was a valid choice, practically, in the real world.
JC: But you became increasingly disenchanted with that situation, didn’t you? Do you want to tell us why?
AF: I became disenchanted despite making a lot of money which, when you’re a young man, has its obvious pleasures involved with it, but I felt like something was missing, and I wanted to do something greater with my art. I was involved with, I don’t know whether you remember, the infamous Joe Camel Campaign where we were drawing cartoons to sell cigarettes to what was determined later to be a market aimed at children, so that was one of the things where I realized that selling cigarettes to kids was not what I wanted to do with my life.
JC: Yeah, absolutely.
AF: You do things for clients where you know that morally or ethically it’s probably not the best place you want to be, but you get sucked in because you want the financial compensation and it’s a business, and the next thing you know is that you’re pimping alcohol and cigarettes to kids, and I didn’t want to do that.
JC: Yeah, obviously you had that feeling of being unhappy about what you were being sucked into there, but was there any particular thing that made you think I’ve really got to move in a political direction?
AF: I’ve always been interested in politics. The very first images I created when I was a child were politically charged images, so I always had that inclination and wanted to get back into that. I strayed away from it because of economic concerns and I really came to the conclusion that I was going to stop caring about making a living and start caring about making a life and making work that I can be proud of, so I just left it all behind. I started from square one to recreate myself as a political fine artist and illustrator and that’s what I dedicated myself to, and I haven’t looked back.
JC: And I guess that involved you in a lot of work in a self-promotional way in order to get your illustrations recognized and get enough money to live on?
AF: Yes, unfortunately, self-promotion is a big part of this business and you sometimes feel dirty about it, but “Look at me, look at me” is an essential part of the business and, unfortunately, it’s just the nature of it, but like I say when you’re doing it just for money, there’s part of you that hates yourself, but when you’re doing what I’m trying to do now, sell ideas of peace and freedom and liberty, then I don’t feel guilty or narcissistic about it, I feel like there’s a means to an end.
JC: And you also now have this position at the Institute. How long have you been teaching there?
AF: I’ve just started. I taught my first semester, which went great; it was very rewarding and I think the students really got a lot out of it with the benefit of my long career.
JC: Do they understand what you’re doing? Do they perhaps even want to go the way that you have gone?
AF: Some of them do, yes. There are twenty-six students in the class, so they all have their own particular dreams and aspirations and I try to foster each one of them. I don’t want to make little Anthony Fredas, but at the same time I do want them to be politically aware, I want them to think of ideas greater than just their own career. To me the goal of an artist is to think of something that you can present to the world that enhances ideas, or enhances people’s understanding of the world, and makes them look at things in a different way than they’re accustomed to. It makes them think, so I try to foster that and I try to encourage them to follow whatever their passion is. What are they concerned about? What do they think is important? Don’t just try to follow me; these are my passions because the art world will always be better when it’s your passion, you know. When somebody who loves animals paints animals, you can tell that person loves animals because the love goes into the drawing as opposed to somebody who might hate animals. When they draw an animal that passion, that sensitivity and that reverence will not be there, and It’s evident in the final product. In everything we do in life, but especially in the visual arts, it’s very obvious.
JC: Yeah, it makes total sense if you’re committed to something then you just naturally do that little bit extra that you wouldn’t bother to do if you weren’t really interested in it and invested in what you’re doing. I totally get that, yeah. It’s interesting you say there about teaching other people and encouraging them to follow their own path. I want to sort of contrast that with a quote from one of your interviews where you said that if you could be given the chance you would, let me quote here: “Recreate an old school room and spend a year drawing my own history lesson on the blackboards with white-colored pencil.” And I was thinking about that and wondering why did you put it like that? What was it in your past that caused you to think in that way?
AF: Well, I think of that line by Paul Simon: “When I think back of all the --------in High School, it’s a wonder I think at all.” It’s a great line and it is so true. I mean there’s so much disinformation that you almost have to start from square one to really consider and understand. I’m looking at history from a United States perspective because I think US history obviously in the last hundred years has influenced world history, but I’m US-centric just because I’m American, and also because it’s just too daunting to try and understand everything about world history; it’s mind-boggling. Anyway, I focus on US history and what I was taught about US history as it contrasts to what real historians and real investigative journalists, people who were digging for the truth, rather than regurgitating propaganda, have revealed and presented to the world, and that to me is so fascinating and the fact that all this information is out there and there is a growing community of people online that are aware and understand these alternative narratives that should be the official narrative, but I guess it’s always a fight. We have to fight for truth and the best way to do it is to educate people and give them valid and useful information that they can’t challenge and that will open up their minds to other possibilities other than the dogma that they’ve been brought up on.
JC: And I think your art works do that brilliantly, actually, in that they do open up the consciousness, and I’m going to ask you about all these techniques that you use where you juxtapose images in such a way as to impact people’s consciousness such that they have to question what they’ve been taught and how they think about the world. It’s a worldview kind of clash that’s going on there.
Just before you go away from this education thing, is that what was behind to some extent that piece that you created where you have a teacher, a kind of two-headed teacher in front of a blackboard, and she’s pointing to a gun on one hand and to a drone on the other, and the drone is ‘good violence’ and the gun is ‘bad violence’. Is there something of that criticism of your own educational experience in that?
AF: Absolutely. It’s a criticism of my education and the entire system, the mainstream media and the establishment’s hypocrisy. I mean everything I do is about exposing hypocrisy really in the end because there’s hypocrisy everywhere and it’s hidden in plain sight, it’s so obvious if you try to be objective and rational about these things and not emotional, you see it everywhere. There’s hypocrisy on the right and the left, in the establishment; it’s astonishing. People hate being call a hypocrite, by the way.
JC: Well, I know, because I’ve been called a hypocrite as well. I don’t agree with that, but I have been called it, and it does hurt of course.
AF: I don’t think you’re a hypocrite but I do think that people…I mean Obama’s one of the biggest arms dealers in United States history, and he’s brokered more arms deals than any Republican or Democrat in the administration over the last seven years, so if he’s interested in controlling the sale of arms, maybe he should start with self-control. So, these are the things I try to point out. I think when you get right to the heart of it, when you figure out a clever way to point out somebody’s hypocrisy, you try to do it with humor because as Oscar Wilde said: “If you tell people the truth you’d better make them laugh or they’ll hate you.” or “they’ll kill you” I think he said. So, you know, you have to temper these messages. If you just tell people they’re an idiot or a hypocrite, no one’s going to listen to you, and rightly so. You have to be civil about these things.
JC: So your technique there, one of those things, is humor, and it comes out in a lot of your pieces, I suppose necessarily a kind of black humor very often because of the subject matters you’re dealing with. But one of the things that you mention in a lecture you gave last year at Liberty Fest, also filmed by John Massaria, which came out as the film: The Thoughtcrimes of Anthony Freda. And you say in that lecture that you use archetypal images a lot such as the hero and the villain and other images that are often exploited by the cultural manipulators of the age to reinforce false narratives, and you turn that on its head and use those to get back at them. I mean could you summarize how you tend to use images to fight back?
AF: Yeah, well one of the classic techniques of an illustrator is to use what is popularly termed ‘mashup’. You take two disparate ideas and combine them into a new and interesting, and hopefully compelling, idea and that juxtaposition is what excites the viewer. Yeah, there’s a fine line: you want to be novel and interesting, but at the same time too much novelty will disturb the viewer and too little will bore the viewer, so you have to find that sweet spot where the juxtaposition is just funny enough, or just interesting enough, or just novel enough to be compelling and, like I say, not familiar enough that it’s just boring, so it’s a challenge because if you go too far, people will be turned off by it, if you’re too provocative, people will resent it. It’s a balance. But yes, juxtaposition or matching up disparate ideas is the classic and really at the heart of everything I do.
JC: Yeah, I can see that is obviously a very tricky thing to do, and I suppose this is one of the paradoxes in that I should think a lot of people would obviously be impressed by the image, but if they think about it for a moment beyond that in terms of technique they might think: Yeah, that’s just one image, there can’t have been a lot of thought gone behind that.” I very much suspect that it takes quite a long time to make that judgment, to find the right image to go with the other image, etc. I should imagine that’s quite a headache at times.
AF: Well, it’s interesting. I think it’s just the way certain people’s minds work. I think my mind has always worked in those terms. I look back at the work when I was a child and I was making these juxtapositions then. It’s just something I’ve always done, I’m not sure why, whether it’s brain chemistry or it just happens to be the way I think.
JC: You certainly have a tremendous skill for it. You have these various archetypes and some of these major images that people are familiar with like the Statue of Liberty that you use a lot, Capitol Hill, Uncle Sam appears all over the place, and you have of course Obama and Osama Bin Laden. These are recurring images, are they not, in your work, and one that you mentioned in that lecture that a lot of people have reacted to, particularly, and I reacted in the same kind of way is that– I don’t know what it’s called – where you have the plinth where the Statue of Liberty should stand, but of course you’ve removed that, and you have this iconic image of a naked Vietnamese girl running down the road away from the napalm on the plinth. It just strikes you, you know, the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Do you find that most people do react in the way that you intend when they see images like that?
AF: Well, that’s obviously meant to, not incite, but to provoke people to think about things in a more moral fashion. This whole idea that we have the moral high ground because we’re American, I mean that’s so easily debunked, and I’m not anti-American, I just think we could do better and that’s really all I’m saying. We could do better than the Vietnam War, we could do better than the Iraq War, and the reason we don’t is because we’re manipulated. We’re good people, Americans are good people, they’re manipulated by their people, they’re manipulated by a corrupt media and a military industrial complex that is in the business of fomenting hatred, xenophobia, tribalism and endless warfare. I mean, that’s their business. When a political establishment and a media are working in concert to promote these ideas, it’s pretty easy to do, and they’ve done it over and over again resulting in millions of dead people and suffering people all over the world. So, my critics who simply dismiss me as being anti-American I think are missing the point. I’m pro-American. I’m pro - the good forces of America - and these are what we should promote, and I think that by exposing really this cabal of corrupt, immoral elites who have usurped American policy for their own nefarious ends need to be exposed, and that’s what I’m doing.
JC: Yes, I fully understand because as I was saying to John recently, the British establishment over here is trying to do a similar kind of thing with their meme called ‘British Values’, and it boils down to if you’re against what the Government is doing, particularly in foreign policy, then you’re held to be against ‘British Values’. It’s really Orwellian-speak, but of course you can be, as I am, very keen about my country, and love my country, but if I criticize then I’m somehow against ‘British Values’. It’s really obnoxious and, as you say, it needs to be exposed, which of course is what I, and other people like me, try to do, so we’re very much on the same page as you. Having touched on particular works of art there (and I’ll come back to a number, more actually, which impressed me of course), the one which we have to talk about is Questions, which was the subject of that film that John made called Behind Truth Art, and I’m really interested to understand how you actually felt when you were meeting the curators of the US National September 11th Museum, and you were speaking to them, and I mean they basically seemed to treat you quite well, but I’m wondering how you actually felt? Were you sort of hot under the collar?
AF: Well, I witnessed 9/11 happen from my roof in Manhattan where I was living at the time, so it was a very emotional and personal experience for me, and I had this underlying unease about it, personal attachment and passion about it. Honestly, it has fueled a lot of the political artwork I’ve done on a visceral level like I want to use my art to get back; it’s almost an act of revenge for an unseemly crime against humanity, and to get to the truth, so when I was in the museum, it was a very strange experience because these people, everyone of these people had a copy of the 9/11 Commission Report on their desk as if it were a Bible, and this is a shrine, it’s almost a temple to the official narrative, and what I was there to do was to tell them: “Listen, before you carve this official narrative into stone”, literally which is what they were doing there, “maybe you should find out that most of what it says in this book isn’t even true. It was written before 9/11 even happened. It’s a fairy tale.”
JC: You didn’t actually say that to them?
AF: I didn’t say that, but I did say we should find out what happened before you etch this into stone, I did say that; that’s on the record. But, that’s what I was thinking the whole time I was there, trying to get them to question the foundation of what their whole building is built upon.
JC: Your being there and doing what you were doing was in the broader sense saying that to them at every moment that you were there. What was interesting is that in the Newsweek piece that was written about that event, you were recorded as saying that your initial intention when you were given this commission was actually to mock, very gently, but to mock the 9/11 Truth Movement, but then you say that you became persuaded that actually there really was something of substance here. Were there particular evidences that changed your mind on this?
AF: There’s just so many smoking guns, and I’m not an expert on 9/11 Truth, but I listen to people who are experts, people like Steve Pieczenik, one of the founders of Delta Force, one of the guys who was at the Camp David Accords. He outlines why it was a false flag operation and he names names and outlines the whole operation, and there’s many other people who are pilots, scientists, architects, engineers, and people who are experts, which I am not, but they are, also people from intelligence agencies from all over the world from German Intelligence, Japanese Intelligence and Italian Intelligence, and these people understand how these operations work and they know the official story was [expletive deleted], and they know the truth. Everybody in the intelligence community knows that it was all just a fairy tale. What really happened, I don’t think we’ll ever know, I don’t think anybody will know exactly what happened. I’m not saying I have all the answers, that I know, but what I’m saying is if you do the research you’ll find very clearly, and without a doubt, that the official story is a lie, so I say to you do your own research. Look at people like my friend John Gold who has been dedicating his life to this, and he’s done some great research. Also Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth, and there are a lot of great people that are doing work, that I think they’re doing God’s work because they are constantly mocked and undermined, and they’re lied about. They are brave people because they’re doing something that’s incredibly unpopular, and yet in the face of that unpopularity they press on because they’re concerned about truth, they’re not concerned about being popular.
JC: Absolutely. Was it actually through researching for that artwork that you encountered this information then? You hadn’t encountered much of it before?
AF: I hadn’t. I was subject to the mainstream narrative. Anybody who questioned any part of the story was a tinfoil-hat wearing lunatic who hates America and loves Osama Bin Laden. That was it, that was the official line, that’s what I was inculcated with, and these ideas were hostile to me, these ideas that that story wasn’t true, or that maybe there was some evidence of a stand down, or evidence of why there were drills going on the same day, and why weren’t these planes intercepted when people for decades have been able to intercept planes in drills; that’s what they do all day for a living. How do you let a plane crash into the Pentagon, the most secure building on earth, I mean none of these things make sense when you start thinking about it logically. We have a trillion-dollar military, and the one building that the entire world knows is the seat of this military is easily crashed into by a plane. It doesn’t make any sense. Nothing made sense that day, so when you start thinking about it and start researching why didn’t anything make sense that day? You’re so emotional about what happened that you just take in the official story without thinking about it or questioning it. So yes, I got this assignment from the Village Voice called Fakes on a Plane, and it was the story about these documentary filmmakers who were questioning the official narrative, and I started as my research to watch their films like Loose Change and others. At that time there was a C-Span presentation where they had Stephen Jones on and Bob Bowman and a lot of military people, and it was on C-Span.
JC: Yeah, I think I recall that. Was David Ray Griffin involved in that as well?
AF: I think he might have been, yes. So I watched that and these are all credible people, really smart people, and I listened to them. I went from thinking the only people that question this were kooks, but as I watched these guys I realized they were not kooks, they’re smart people. Why would they put their reputation on the line knowing they’d be called a kook? Why would they stick their neck out like that? There must be something to it. They’re not getting paid for it, it’s not like they’re getting showered with adoration, they’re getting showered with ridicule, so why would you put yourself out there, expose yourself to that kind of ridicule, unless there’s something there. It made no sense. You risk your reputation, and people’s reputations were ruined, some
people’s lives even were ruined. So, when someone puts their entire reputation and their life on line, and they have a record of being a consistent, reliable, responsible professional, you need to listen to that person.
JC: Absolutely, and I think as you were saying before it’s not a case of saying well I listened to that person and believe that their particular version of it is absolutely correct, it is the very fact that you have such a substantial number of people, who do know what they’re talking about, basically saying we cannot accept the official position, it’s that that should really tip people off, if they bother to look into it at all, to the realization that we just cannot accept what’s there and we have to do our own research, which I think, obviously, your work of art does. Let me just ask you, if I can drag this down the page so that I can see your artwork here, it is actually called Questions, isn’t it? That is the title?
AF: Yes, and that was deliberate because, like I say, it’s not called Answers, because I don’t have answers.
JC: It’s interesting what you’ve done with it, because you haven’t actually just restricted it to specifically 9/11 issues. You’ve gone slightly broader than that. Now, I can imagine that some people might say that by going broader, and for example you have the pyramid with the eye on top, so you brought in some of these icons from what we might call the broader truth movement, and some people might say that you’re confusing matters by doing that. I’m not saying that, I’m just wondering if you could explain why you have brought in some of these broader images.
AF: Because I think to understand 9/11 you have to understand it in its historical context, and until that night I’d never heard of Operation Northwoods, and on researching it found out that there were plans approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Cuban Missile Crisis era to do something very similar to what happened on 9/11, so you start to learn, like I say, the real US history. That’s why again I presented the thing in a didactic manner. It’s the blackboard, it’s the classroom.
JC: That’s right, so it’s the teaching situation that you wish you’d had to learn about that bit of history that you were denied.
AF: Yes, everything goes back to that. That’s the problem: very smart people come up with bad conclusions, erroneous conclusions, because they’ve been given bad information. It’s not out of stupidity, but if you’re given bad information, and you’re not exposed to better information, you’re going to consistently make conclusions like Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction and we need to start a war or he’s going to kill us all, the mushroom clouds are coming. If you’re given bad information such as we were attacked in Vietnam and they started a war with us in the Gulf of Tonkin, so we need to go there and kill them all, or the dominos are going to fall, then you’re consistently going to make bad conclusions obviously. It is an obvious point but it needs to be said over and over again.
JC: Yes, it is a kind of obvious point, but actually one can reflect on it a little further. I think it’s kind of obvious, but there’s a deeper point to it, isn’t there, because people often talk about cognitive dissonance when you have information that goes against your worldview, then you tend to push that away, Oh, you know, I have a set worldview, I’ve been taught such and such is true and, in a way, there’s a kind of basis of rationality to this position. We must have a worldview, we have to take certain things for granted in order to exist in this world, but there comes a point where enough information that’s contrary to your worldview comes across your consciousness where, I think, it actually becomes irrational. To push that information away, there comes a point where there’s so much information or so many questions that challenge the worldview that you’ve actually got to stand back and say: “Well, perhaps there’s something wrong about the basic things that I believe and have been taught.” So, personally, I don’t criticize everybody I meet who is not interested in these things; I just think well maybe they’ve not gone far enough down that road, they’ve not encountered enough contrary information to change. So I’m agreeing with you that we need to be gentle with people in that sense, but present them with information, which I think you do here.
I love the way that you have a frame within a frame, the back of a person’s head in the inner frame looking at the Twin Towers burning there, and above him, in the larger frame, is all this other information that you have scattered around the canvass, and he can’t see any of that, and it’s as if you’re inviting us as the audience to say I can see the back of my own head and I’m seeing myself there as somebody who can just see the picture that’s presented to me on the mainstream media, but if I could just stand back, I can see the bigger picture and: “Good Heavens! This is all challenging my worldview that is impressed upon my by the media, and a lot of it is false.” I love the way it challenges your perception and you have to do that in the picture. It was a great idea.
AF: Ah, thanks. That’s what I was trying to do with layers of reality. The media will focus our attention to a little box, like Plato’s allegory of the cave where the shadows on the wall are their definition of reality, but the real reality has nothing to do with that, so it’s all about looking beyond those shadows and trying to understand the bigger picture. It’s just human nature; people don’t like to be challenged because they take it as an insult to their own intellect. It’s easier to fool someone than convince them that they’ve been fooled. That’s a very daunting challenge because you have to be delicate about it. You have to do it with compassion and understanding. Listen, I was once a believer in every official narrative. I believed everything they told me. So, there has to be an awakening process, an awakening of consciousness, an awakening of awareness of the information to understand, to suspend belief in all propaganda, to really understand to what degree you are complicit in these evil agendas that are happening all over the world.
JC: And as I say, I think you do that really well. If you just presented all these images and you hadn’t invited us into the picture, I think it wouldn’t have worked, but because you do gently invite us to see the back of our own heads – Is that me looking at that? – I think it works really well. As I said before, I think you were treated pretty well by the curators. Obviously, I’m just looking at the film. Is that how you felt about it, that the film accurately records that?
AF: They were very nice and very gracious. They didn’t really want us to film it, but John just put a camera on the table and, God bless him, he just filmed the whole thing even though I ‘d just watched them say you’re not allowed to have a camera in here.
JC: [Laughs] Right.
AF: After the fact he called us and threatened us saying you’re not allowed to put that out, there are going to be legal ramifications, so they got a little testy after the fact, but the female curators were very gracious and at the end of the whole presentation they said "thank you so much for coming, of course we don’t agree with anything you’ve said, but... [Laughs] ...we wanted to give you an opportunity to present our case." So yes, they were very gracious.
JC: Good, so they didn’t call you a conspiracy theorist then?
AF: No, that was everybody online once it came out.
JC: Is it actually on display then, or have they put it in a basement somewhere?
AF: Well, some people say they’ve put it in like Raiders of the Lost Ark where they’ve got a big warehouse somewhere where they hide everything [Laughs]. It’s supposedly going to be on display on a rotating basis. That was part of the deal I made with them. They have a large collection so they bring out pieces intermittently. And it’s also to be part of their travelling show because the Museum travels to different countries and different museums, so that was the deal, but I’ve yet to hear from them. They said they would contact me when it was on display. It hasn’t happened yet.
JC: Yeah, I can imagine there’s somebody there gritting their teeth thinking: “Oh, I’ll have to put this out, and I might lose my job.” Yeah, it’s great though that you’ve managed to get that into the collection. Is that the only, as it were, truth – you know what I mean by that – Truth Movement - I don’t like the term actually, but how else do we refer to these things – piece of art that’s actually in the collection?
AF: I don’t like those labels either. That’s what they asked me: “Are you a Truth-er?” I refuse to be defined by labels.
JC: I suppose I should put it this way: “Do you know of other pieces of art in that collection that question in a similar kind of way?”
AF: Not in a similar way, but I think there are other pieces. It’s not easy to find them or to get information about them. I think there are, but like I say I don’t have specifics, and I’m pretty sure that there’s nothing similar to what I’ve done.
JC: Well, I’d like to ask you just a couple of questions really about how you go about doing your art. From what I’ve gleaned, you seem to live now in ideal circumstances to do art, at least that’s how I would think of it, you seem to be away from the city and in quiet surroundings. Do you find that a great situation for your artwork?
AF: I do, the house I live in now was a convent at one point and is surrounded by beautiful grounds, so it’s a great place to force contemplation, and I also go into the city where I’m teaching. I’m sixty miles from New York, so it’s a nice balance from the chaos and energy of the city to the peace and tranquility of the country, so I have the best of both worlds. I get stimulated and then have an opportunity to meditate on the stimulation.
JC: And when you are commuting backwards and forwards to your teaching appointments, do you take a sketchbook and jot down ideas. I have this romantic idea of the artist always carrying this means of jotting down spontaneous ideas. Is that right? [Both laugh]
AF: It’s true. I actually tell my students to always have a sketchbook close by, because even when you’re sleeping sometimes your best ideas come in dreams, and you might just wake up and jot something down because you’ll forget it the next morning. As an artist you’re always processing ideas and thinking of ways to translate the information received during the day into something that’s visually compelling. At least that’s what I’m doing. Sometimes that process happens subconsciously while I’m dreaming. It’s a Jungian thing with this symbology, this language, the collective unconscious is available to you and these symbols historically, this iconography that’s available to you combines itself in mysterious and interesting ways.
JC: And you use all sorts of different techniques, don’t you? Of the things that have been written about you, you use found objects, different surfaces, collage, drawing. Do you use oil painting?
AF: Sometimes I use paint although I’ve gotten away from paint. I started working for a period on – again getting back to the didactic nature of my work – I work on old 19th century school slates and school desks that I collect. The energy of these old objects and the patina and the beauty that’s come from just existing for hundred and fifty years, the wood is beautifully - the oil from the children’s hand has aged the wood and given it a patina, and the slate itself, there’s still faint evidence of the marks that these children wrote back in the schoolroom, and that to me is so powerful. You can feel when you hold this object, so I want to take these objects that already have a power and give them another layer of meaning. So, yeah, I love working with old objects and digitally you can do that too, you can scan the object and work on it digitally.
JC: You don’t start digitally, you always start in a traditional way, do you?
AF: I always try to start with traditional substratum and scan that and then build layers upon it.
JC: The reason why I asked about oil painting is because it dovetails into what you were saying about objects that already exist and then refashioning them, finding a new purpose for them. Is it among your piece again – I don’t know the title – where you have, I think, a reworking of a painting by Edward Hopper called Morning Sun?
JC: Do you want to tell us about that because I find that really striking?
AF: I call that The Clash of Civilizations. This is obviously a woman in a burka sitting on a bed in this Edward Hopper painting, and she’s semi-reclined, looking out of the window, and there’s a drone in the sky and that’s this Clash of Civilization that is happening all around us, and it’s really the defining moment of our times. Trying to encapsulate that in one image, I used this classic American painter as a foundation for that because that’s such a powerful image.
JC: Yes, I recognized the image. I didn’t actually know who it was by but immediately when I saw it I thought I’m sure I’ve seen that picture before, but it had obviously been transformed so I very quickly found out. Ah, yes, that’s exactly what you’ve done there; you’ve taken a classic picture and you’ve changed the function of it really effectively.
AF: Well thanks. And that’s another big part of these juxtapositions and this parody. Parody is another huge tool for the artist. I’m constantly parodying images that people are aware of and people have associations with, because people gravitate to those images and they understand those images. They understand them on an emotional level, on an intellectual and an artistic level and they have a certain understand when you can take that image and give it a new meaning or flop the meaning on its head, it resonates with the viewer. It’s just a great tool, so I use parody a lot.
JC: You do, and one of the parodies I love, particularly, is the one where you have the Democrat donkey and the Republican elephant and [Laughing] their backsides turned to each other with the same human face on each backside, and they’re talking hot air to each other, to put it politely. Where did that idea come from? It works really well but it’s kind of ‘out there’, isn’t it?
AF: Well, they’re all talking [expletive deleted], aren’t they? I really think partisanship is tribalism, I think its anathema to objectivity, and, I think that by its nature, polarizes people, and it’s an intractable problem. I don’t know how to get around it because, I guess, the hypocrisy is hidden in plain sight. Democrats blame every problem in the world on Republicans and vice-versa, and it’s very hard to convince them anything that’s even close to the idea that they’re both [expletive deleted]. I mean they’re not buying it, so I don’t know.
JC: Let me ask you about another couple of pieces before we close.
JC: Good. Perhaps my very favorite piece of your artworks that I’ve actually seen is The Magic Bullet, and I think that’s really very clever where you have JFK, MLK and, I think, it’s RFK. Have I got those three right? .
AF: Yes, yes.
JC: And they’re all in this line, and they’re all being taken out with a single bullet. I just think that works on so many levels. I think that’s wonderful. Do you want to tell us the inspiration for that?
AF: Well, again, it’s questioning the official narrative, you know, when you start to look into things because you’re taught from the time you’re born in America that people who question the lone gunman theory of JFK, or people who question what happened to MLK or RFK and Sirhan Sirhan that these people are just crazy people. Of course they were all just lone nut jobs with a desire to kill some of the most powerful people in the world, and they didn’t have any affiliations with any organizations, they weren’t attached to any intelligence agencies, there was no greater plot by anyone, there was just one crazy guy with a gun. It’s always just one crazy guy who happens to take out, conveniently, some of the most powerful people in the world. And isn’t that interesting how someone with no power becomes the mover of history? And I don’t buy it, and when you start to look into these situations, you realize it wasn’t just one crazy person who changed history; it was much more complicated than that, and I think there’s a common thread that runs through those assassinations that happened in the 60s, and I think it’s been documented, and I think that if you do your research and look into people like Dr. Pepper and some of the thousands of books written on JFK (Roger Stone wrote a great book), and also some of the books on RFK and the history of Sirhan Sirhan, there is a common thread and that common thread is indicated in my CIA bullet.
JC: I love the way you take that on both levels: the reductio ad absurdum of the official lone gunman and you reduce that to the single bullet of the official story, and the single bullet which is the answer to the conundrum of a different bullet. It’s a wonderful piece and I do hope you’ll allow me to use that actually for the slide show for the show. That would be great.
AF: Absolutely, you’re welcome to use any of my work, Julian.
JC: Thank you. There was one other thing that I wanted to ask you, and that’s coming back to the humor really, the black humor, but I think it does work extremely well. You have a couple – you probably have more actually – where your theme is very much the meme that’s been out there for the last few years, really, where you have a black cloud ISIS fighter and you have the unfortunate orange-clad victim, and you put these people in different situations, and on one you have them there in a studio, and you have a green backdrop for the superimposition of the desert, or whatever the CIA studio wants to actually create, and you’ve done this kind of thing a number of times. In your experience do people react well to that kind of black humor, or have you come across people who are upset by your saying something in that kind of way about such a subject?
AF: Well, I have had people react. Most of my fans react positively, obviously, but there are people who react negatively to my work, and people who just don’t get it, and people who threaten me and berate me, and then I get thrown all the same pejoratives such as I hate America, I’m with the terrorists, etc. Everything I do is about the idea that images have power, and the Establishment is well aware of that, so when they keep showing you someone chopping someone’s head off in a newsreel, there’s a reason for that. They have an agenda behind that. When you start thinking about it, if those beheading videos are ISIS propaganda, and ISIS is our enemy, why are we promoting our enemies’ propaganda? Again, looking at everything with a jaundiced eye, you have to be a bit of a cynic in this day and age, I think, or you can’t understand anything of what’s going on around you, you can’t take anything without an ironic slant on it, or you’re going to miss the point. So everything I do is about making people think about things in a different way, and not just accept a two-minute video presented to us for what it is, and to flip it on its head, to flip everything on its head just for a moment, and see if that makes more sense.
JC: Excellent stuff and you do it so very well in so many, many different ways. I’m delighted to have come across your work. Thank you ever so much for joining us today. I would like to direct people to your website where you do display not only your political art, but you have examples of your other art as well. I don’t actually have that to hand. Could you tell us how people can reach your work that way?
AF: Anthonyfreda.com, or just google Anthony Freda, and you’ll see a collection of my throughtcrimes. [Laughing] They’re all up there.
JC: Do you know I should have remembered that, shouldn’t I? Anthonyfreda.com, of course. Do you make any of your pieces available for creative commons re-use as a matter of interest?
AF: Some of my pieces are licensed, but most of my pieces are available. If you just contact me, I will give you permission. I love volunteering my services and donating my work to like-minded causes and activists who are working for peace and for liberty, and if you’re one of the good guys, you’re welcome to my work.
JC: To get into contact with you, wonderful. And what are your next projects?
AF: Well, I’m working with John Massaria on a variety of projects, and on his latest film I Love my Country but I Hate What They’re Doing, and I’m actually working on a graphic novel about the RFK assassination. I’m producing it with my artistic partner, Dan Zallinger, and I recently did a Dick Cheney sculpture contest as a reaction to the official Dick Cheney sculpture that was up in Washington.
JC: Yes, and you have a Facebook page for that. Yeah, I saw that, and there was a winner, wasn’t there?
AF: Yes. Saul Roberts was the winner, but that contest is not dead. I still want to go down to Washington and present a little mock ceremony to present an alternative to that Dick Cheney sculpture which is an abomination, I think. $50,000 of taxpayers’ money went to honor a war criminal, and this is the other thing: is it incumbent upon an artist to be dedicated to something other than their own career advancement? This artist who took that project on I mean to me is complicit in creating state propaganda, trying to whitewash the crimes of Dick Cheney and present him as a great American hero. So, these are the things I challenge and this is a war and it’s going on, it’s a war of nations and it can be fought with images.
JC: So, finally what are your hopes, not for your own personal career, but generally for the future? You’re working in the opposite direction of the kind of person you’ve just described. You’re trying to deconstruct these official distortions of history, so, by doing that, what are you hoping what you’re doing will achieve and others like you will achieve?
AF: We have this unparalleled opportunity now to use media in a leveraged way to get these memes out there. The image has power. People don’t read articles, but they do look at memes and memes have power. So create your own meme; come up with an image. Go and put a clever way of challenging what you see as injustice, or lies, or official narratives that don’t make sense, or war mongering, or excuses for tyranny, or whatever you see - official sanctioned injustice. Go after it. Go after it as an artist and be proactive, and get your information out there, because we can counter. This ongoing war is based on a lie and we can do it, we can get this information out there. If you come up with a meme that’s powerful and compelling and funny, it can get shared, and seen. My work is seen my millions of people, and I hope it has some effect in making them think in a different manner.
JC: And this goes for everybody, irrespective of your level of ability in the visual arts. You can make some kind of statement. And I would certainly recommend everybody go to your website, Anthonyfreda.com (which I’ve just remembered now) and actually study your work, because you have quite a lot there for people to learn from. See how you’ve done it, obviously not to copy what you’ve done, but to see what’s possible. And for all of us – I mean I’m very limited in my visual art ability but, you know, who knows, I could do something, learn from what you’ve done – make our own statements in our own ways. And maybe if many of us are doing this in this digital age, it will actually make a real difference, and wake a lot of people up to what is going on and has been going on. Anthony Freda, it has been a wonderful experience talking to you. I’m delighted that you came on the show. Thank you ever so much for joining us, it’s been fantastic.
AF: Thank you, Julian. It’s my pleasure.
- The views expressed by Anthony Freda in this interview are his responsibility alone; they do not necessarily reflect those of The Mind Renewed.
- All images included on this page are Copyright © Anthony Freda, all rights reserved, and used here with kind permission.