Michael Thompson FREESTYLEE

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Michael Thompson (aka Freestylee) was born in Kingston, Jamaica and is now based in the small city of Easton, Pennsylvania, United States. He studied graphic design in the early 1980s, at the Jamaica School of Art, now called the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. Of the many artists that influenced Freestylee during the formative years, few did more than the Rastafarian artist Ras Daniel Hartman. Hartman’s prolific output of drawings in the 1970s represented for Freestylee a rich source of Rastafari references and traditions that were growing deep influences on the Jamaican popular culture. Freestylee’s influences were not, however, exclusively Jamaican, or the Rastafari movement. Like other young progressive artists in Jamaica at the time the anti-apartheid struggles and liberation movements in Southern Africa were very inspiring, so were the struggles in Latin America. The subjects were evident in his earlier personal designs, drawings and paintings (1970s – 80s). During that period, he won two successive poster competitions in Jamaica, which gave him the opportunity to participate with the Jamaican delegation in the 11th World Festival of Youth and Students in Havana, Cuba in 1978, and again in Moscow in 1985. He describes his visit to Cuba as “a transforming experience and a tremendous opportunity.” There, he was introduced to the Cuban poster art created by ICAIC, (Cuban Film Institute) OSPAAAL, (Organization for Solidarity with the People of Africa, Asia, and Latin America), and Casa de Las Américas. Freestylee’s visit to Cuba, and his exposure to Cuban posters created by designers at these organizations greatly inspired his poster design aesthetics.

At present, his main field of design centers on poster art, graphic design, brand illustrations, and presentation art. It is in the field of poster art that Freestylee’s work is recognized internationally. Freestylee sees his poster art as visual narratives that explore the many facets of global struggles of the underclass and believes in giving back to the community and the world through what he calls Creative Activism and Social Design. Freestylee’s Creative Activist poster designs possess a modern liveliness in the pieces, with exuberant and colorful imagery, accompanied by forceful illustrations. Freestylee uses his art effectively with social media to stimulate awareness globally, and to spark conversation about many social issues. He uses poster art to express solidarity or protest issues that he feels passionate about: global poverty, racism, anti war, migration policies, peace and justice, Pinnacle and the Bob Marley “One Love,” themes. He also designed numerous posters celebrating and promoting the historical and popular cultural Jamaican heritage. Such topics explore Jamaica’s popular musical genres; Reggae, Ska, Rocksteady, Dub, Dancehall and the Jamaican Sound System. An example of Freestylee’s social activism is the successful International Reggae Poster Contest which he envision as a platform for a catalyst idea; the centerpiece of his vision is reggae, and his ultimate goal, is to see a Frank Gehry caliber Reggae Hall of Fame Museum erected in Kingston, Jamaica. This intuitive also help raise awareness for Alpha Boys’ School which has players a key role in the development of Ska and Reggae music. The International Reggae Poster contest has raised over US$10,000 for the institution for wayward boys.
Other posters have captured the evolution and revolutionary spirit of the “Arab Spring” and have received tremendous international press. These works have been published in numerous international magazines and Blogs, including the French magazine Straadda, German design magazine Page, and Graphic Art News. A notable mention is the Egyptian Revolution poster “Get Up, Stand Up,” a reference to Bob Marley’s defiant anthem, this poster was published in the UK magazine Arise 2011 and the African Digital Art website.

Freestylee’s reggae and Rastafarian posters have also drawn much international attention and have been published in the premier German reggae magazine Riddim. A collection of posters have also toured Europe as part of the Reggae Movement Exhibition in 2011-2012. The exhibition trace the journey of the reggae sound system from Jamaica in the 1950s to the UK and its growth in the 60s and 70s, and then spread across Europe. First showing at YAAM in Berlin in October 2011, and followed up at The Little Green Street Gallery, Dublin, and other European cities. Other personal exhibitions in 2010 included: National Gallery of Jamaica’s Biennale of Graphics in Kingston, Jamaica. Freestylee’s posters have also exhibited at the Drum Art Center, Birmingham, during the London 2012 Olympic Games and Jamaica 50th celebrations. Other exhibitions include Freestylee, Artist Without Borders, Rototom Sunsplash, Spain, Allentown Art Museum, USA and the “Edna Manley’s Bogle: A Contest of Icons” at the National Gallery of Jamaica. Recently his reggae and Rastafari works were exhibited in the Mexico City Metro, officially called Sistema de Transporte Colectivo, at two of the main metropolitan stations, Pino Suárez and Jamaica in Mexico City.

Freestylee’s awareness art is deeply rooted and inspired by the conscious roots reggae music of the 1970s and 80s. His reggae fused posters are fundamentally tied to the imagery and messages of that same period. He believes that the success of the genre is not by chance, but can be traced directly to the hopeful human messages that all people can relate to and the feeling of solidarity that goes with that. Freestylee is fully immersed in trying to capture the extraordinary energy of Bob Marley and others Rastafarian singers who took the music from Jamaica to the world. The success of reggae artistes like Burning Spear, Culture, Uroy, Abyssinians, Peter Tosh and the legendary Bob Marley is a reminder that positive messages in music is extremely powerful. What these great singers had to say to the world can also be translated visually as well and this is Freestylee’s mission, “This is the music and the musicians I grew up hearing in Jones Town, Kingston, and it is not surprising these songs from the period are the soundtrack of my life. ….Rastafari “levity” fueled by the mantra of Unity and One Love is still relevant today.”

“The first work by Michael Thompson I ever layed eyes on was my face on a poster, the way I looked when I was half the age I am now.
As it turned out, I got to meet the artist himself a few weeks later. He came to see me, bearing gifts; two splendid prints, one of my portrait and the other, a poster for the Alpha School in Kingston, about which I’d heard much from Horsemouth, another illustrious alumnus of that miraculous institution. It is a simple composition, in black, silhouetted against a crimson background. A young boy, his trombone raised, pointing almost straight up, his head all the way back, is about to blow the first note. But what reveals Michael Thompson’s keen artistic insight is the empty chair behind the boy. The lot of the student, to sit in that chair and learn. The chair now left behind. The boy might not have wings, but he is about to fly, his trombone pulling him up into the heavens.
It is like that with all of Michael Thompson’s work. An emotional reward awaits you every time you look at one of them. The incomparable portraits of national heroes and reggae’s great legends, not only the stars but the foundation builders; The Great Sebastian, Prince Buster, Sir Coxsone, King Tubby with his crown… you are not looking at a skillful adaptation of a photographic image, you are looking at the face of a life. Or a scrawny kid dallying on his bike, dreadlocks inside his bulky tam, living from moment to moment like a leaf in the wind.”

– Ted Bafaloukos (Director of Rockers)

– See more at: http://freestylee.net/michael-thompson/#.VqBkaDY3U_4

“When Michael Thompson has ideas, they’re too big to be contained by political borders—they’re global. The Jamaican artist known as Freestylee, now based near Easton, Pennsylvania, has gained worldwide recognition for his powerful poster designs. Thompson’s social awareness and his design skills have led him to create moving visuals inspired by world events such as the recent Egyptian revolution, the Occupy Movement, and Haitian earthquake relief. Current design technology and the web allows the artist the opportunity to express himself digitally to a global audience.”

John Pepper
Adult & College Programs Coordinator
– Allentown Art Museum

Spanish Translation:

Los carteles de Michael Thompson “Freestylee” han recibido mucha atención internacional. Han sido publicados en la principal revista alemana de Reggae y Dancehall Riddim, en la revista inglesa UK Design Weekly, en la revista francesa Stradda, en la revista de diseño alemana Page, en la revista alemana Lunapark21 y la revista de Reggae norteamericana Jamrock. Durante 2011 y 2012, una colección de carteles de Michael realizó una gira por Europa como parte de la exposición “Movimiento Reggae”, que trazó el recorrido del sistema de sonido del reggae jamaicano hacia Europa. La primera exhibición fue en el Centro Cultural YAAM en Berlín, en octubre de 2011. Esta fue seguida por exposiciones en otras doce ciudades europeas.

El trabajo de Michael se ha mostrado en numerosas otras exposiciones que incluyen: la Bienal de Gráfica de la Galería Nacional de Jamaica; un exposición especial “”Freestylee, Artista sin Fronteras” en el Drum Art Center, en Birmingham, Reino Unido, que se celebró en el marco de las actividades de Artes de los Juegos Olímpicos de Londres 2012 y celebraciones del 50º Aniversario de la Independencia de Jamaica.

Los carteles de Michael también se han exhibido en el Festival Rototom Sunsplash en España. Sus carteles en solidaridad con las víctimas del terremoto de Haití fueron exhibidos en el Museo de Arte de Allentown, Pensilvania. Su trabajo fue incluido en la exposición “Edna Manley Bogle: Un concurso de iconos”, celebró en la Galería Nacional de Jamaica. En 2015, los carteles de Michael se exhibieron dos veces en México: en el Metro de Ciudad de México, y en el Museo Maya de la Cultura, de Chetumal.

Sus carteles se incluyen también en colecciones permanentes de instituciones artísticas importantes como la Galería Nacional de Jamaica, Casa de las Américas, La Habana, Cuba y el Drum Art Center de Birmingham, Inglaterra.


Official website: www.freestylee.net
Flickr:  Freestylee – Artist Without Borders
Personal Facebook : @mthompson.freestylee
Facebook: @freestyleeart



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