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Freeman, Leonard 1950–

Leonard Freeman 1950

Artist

Never Considered a Career in Art

Established a Career in Commercial Art

Explored Christian, Family, Black Themes in Artwork

Sources

Self-taught artist Leonard Freeman is best known for his fine art prints, which are sold in galleries across the United States. Freemans primary medium is airbrush, though he also uses oils, watercolors, acrylics, and pencils. Thematically, Freemans work falls into three broad categories: Christian imagery, family scenes, and positive representations of Africans and African Americans.

For Freeman, paintings are not just for decoration. Instead, he believes artwork can have a powerful impact on the viewer, and therefore artists must use this power wisely. I am a born-again, spirit-filled Christian, and I feel that the family is the basis for happiness and joy, Freeman said in an interview with Contemporary Black Biography. I also create positive imagery of the black lifestyle, to counteract the bombardment of negative images that African Americans, especially African-American males, are subject to. I feel that artists should be very responsible about what they paint.

Leonard Freeman was born on September 4, 1950 in Taylor, Texas. He was the son of Lemond White, a brick contractor, and Narvella Freeman, a cook. Leonard is a very uncommon name for an African-American boy growing up in the rural South, Freeman told CBB. I used to ask my mother about it, and she said it came to her in a dream.

When Freeman was five years old, his parents divorced. My mother worked, so my great-aunt kept me during the day, Freeman told CBB. Freeman credited his great-aunt, Louie Hennington, with first encouraging him to draw and to do other creative work. She had to keep me busy, so she gave me pencil and paper. She taught me to crochet, to paint rocks, to sew buttons. She was a very creative, craft-type person.

Never Considered a Career in Art

During his years in school, Freeman continued to draw for his own pleasure. At Killeen High School in Killeen, Texas, Freeman earned a reputation as the school artist, he said in an interview with CBB. Whenever I meet people from high school, they tell me thats what they remember. However, none of his teachers or guidance counselors suggested that he consider a career in the arts. I wasnt up on scholarships, and I didnt know of any African-American role models, Freeman told CBB. I suppose if I had grown up in Chicago or New York, I would have had more cultural experience. But I lived in a small town, and I had no idea that there even were any African-American artists.

After graduating from Killeen High in 1969, Freeman attended Bishop College in Dallas, Texas, where he majored in business. The college had no art department, and did not offer any formal classes in art. However, one of the professors, Dr. Sarah Hollis, ran an informal art class on her own time. Interested students could stop by and receive instruction in life drawing or painting. This was my first real exposure to art, Freeman told CBB.

At a Glance

Born Leonard Freeman, September 4, 1950, Taylor, TX; son of Lemond White, a brick contractor, and Narvella Freeman, a cook; divorced from first wife; married Beverly Freeman, 1982; children: Leonard (Lenny) Charles Conner, Becky Lewis, Leonard Freeman Jr., Ebony Freeman. Education: Studied at Bishop College, Dallas, TX, 1969-71; Art institute of Houston, certificate, 1981.

Career: Television and stereo salesman, 1971-79; credit department, Harrison Equipment, 1979-81; self-taught artist, 1981-present; layout artist, Art City, 1983-84; layout artist/illustrator, Henry and Peretti Design, 1984-85; full-time freelance commercial artist, 1985-1995; launched LenArt Productions to sell fine-art prints, 1995.

Addresses; Office LenArt Productions, 2708 Wichita Street, Houston, TX 77004.

Uninterested in his studies, Freeman dropped out of college in 1971. For the next five years, he worked as a television salesman, first in Killeen and then in Houston, Texas; for two years after that, he was a stereo salesman in Houston. In 1979, Freeman took a position in the credit department at Harrison Equipment, an equipment supplier to the oil industry.

Meanwhile, he continued to improve his drawing skills. The entire time I was working, I was not fulfilled, Freeman told CBB. In my office at Harrison Equipment, I was always doodling. I had a friend there who said, You draw so wellwhy not do something with it?For the first time, Freeman thought seriously about using his skills to pursue a creative career.

At his friends encouragement, Freeman enrolled in a part-time design and layout course at the Art Institute of Houston. This was before computers, so I learned how to manually lay pages outdraw straight lines, put type down, Freeman told CBB. Its basically grunt work for the design industry. I had no instruction in illustration or painting. Although Freeman graduated with a certificate from the Art Institute in 1981, he still considers himself to be a self-taught artist. I never had any formal art training, he told CBB. I feel blessed that I have the ability to learn on my own. But education is so very important. To this day, I feel the lack of preparation. I have to struggle to start a piece. In school, youre taught to overcome this, to overcome the fear of it.

After graduating, Freeman picked up any little jobs he could. I would sit in my apartment with the drapes open and draw, he said in an interview with CBB. One day a man saw me there drawing, and asked if I could design a pen for his rabbits. I drew it out, and got paid $100. I still have that first drawing. I look at it now and I wonder how I even did it. Freeman also started doing portraitseven pet portraits, Freeman recalledfor $50 or $100 each. It was satisfying my need to be recognized as an artist.

Established a Career in Commercial Art

During this time, Freeman became a born-again Christian. I started reading the Bible, and it gave me a new wisdom, a new confidence, he told CBB. It changed my life, and made me want to find my own purpose in life.

At church, Freeman met his second wife, Beverly; the couple married in 1982. Beverly, a traffic manager for one of the top advertising agencies in Houston, showed his work to the art directors there. Before long, Freeman was doing freelance illustration work for several advertising agencies in the city.

In addition to his freelance career, Freeman worked as a layout artist at a design agency, Art City, from 1983 to 1984. The following year, he took a job at Henry and Peretti Design, where he did some layout work and some illustration. If the other illustrators were busy, Id pick up jobs. Otherwise I was stuck with layout, Freeman told CBB. As you can imagine, after a while, I wasnt too happy with that.

Meanwhile, Freeman continued to take freelance assignments from other agencies. After a year, his employers gave him an ultimatum: stop doing outside freelance work, or leave the agency. Freeman decided to leave, and to take the opportunity to become a full-time freelancer. I knew the possibilities were great. I could do anything I wanted to do, he told CBB. For the next ten years, Freeman worked as a freelance commercial artist. Among his many clients are the American Heart Association, Coca-Cola, Compaq, Exxon, Georgia Pacific, Texaco, and Westin Hotels.

Explored Christian, Family, Black Themes in Artwork

Beginning in 1995, Freeman began to create fine art images for limited or open-edition prints. That year, he and his wife Beverly launched their own company, LenArt Productions. Freeman produced the artwork that would be made into prints, while Beverly handled the business side.

Freemans first fine art poster, Positively Black, was a resounding success, with 2,500 copies sold. The next posters Freeman created also sold well, and eventually he was able to give up his commercial illustration work. It was a gradual transition, over a period of about five years, Freeman told CBB. Now I do fine art full-time.

Family themes appear again and again in Freemans artwork. Tenderheaded, for example, shows a sweet-faced young girl, whose eyes are tearing up as an older woman combs her hair. I remember my mother poppin my sister with the comb as she admonished her to hold still, girl!Freeman wrote in the paintings explanatory text. Freeman himself has four children: Leonard (Lenny) Charles Conner, Becky Lewis, Leonard Freeman Jr., and Ebony Freeman.

Pride in African and African-American history is another major theme. Dance of Dignity, for example, shows women in traditional African dress, performing an African dance. In the explanatory text, Freeman describes the painting as a tribute to black women, and our West African heritage.

Religious imagery also appears often in Freemans paintings. One example is The Harvest, based on a passage from the Biblical book of Revelations; the painting shows an angel swinging a scythe above the Earth. The Harvestwas commissioned for the cover of a book by the same name, written by well-known televangelist Bishop T.D. Jakes.

Freeman sells his work through numerous galleries, including the Black Heritage Gallery in Houston, African Imports in Dallas, H & M Gallery in New York, and the October Gallery in Philadelphia. In addition, he sells his work directly at art festivals and through his web site, leonardfreemanart.com.

Freeman credits his wife, Beverly, with launching his fine art career as well as his commercial art career. As well as being his business manager, she critiques my work. She offers inspiration. She is a very vital part of what I do, Freeman said in an interview with CBB. It was amazing how things happened. I see it as Gods intervention in my life.

Sources

Information was obtained on-line at http://www.leonardfreemanart.com, and from a personal interview conducted with Contemporary Black Biography.

Carrie Golus

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