100,000 likes in the first half hour – that’s a helluva thing to wake up to! Welcome to my newest followers and BIG BIG thanks to the more than 91,000 of you who were supporting prior to the feature.
Check out the feature on the Instagram blog:
Check out the full interview below:
IG: How and why did you get started making gas masks? What was the original inspiration? And why sneakers?
FP: I’ve been a lifelong artist and Hip-Hop Head and the two have forever been intertwined in my life and work. In 2010 I started a year long, daily creative project called #MASK365 – over the course of a year I created/drew/designed/painted a mask every day and published it through my blog/website (freehandprofit.com). During #MASK365 I pushed myself out of my own creative comfort zones and craved new materials to work with. In October of 2010 I created the first gas mask like the ones you see today – except I created it with a hand bag that had been thrown out. I don’t know much or care about hand bags but I was happy with the new piece and saw a lot of potential in the new artistic process. So I started searching for similar materials – the quality leathers, interesting colors and branding – then it dawned on me, the answer was on my feet the whole time. Sneakers have always been a staple of Hip-Hop culture and as such they became a part of my life. The gas mask comes in to play partially because I started writing graffiti in middle school and high school. Graffiti writers will wear respirators or masks to protect their identity and lungs. In the bigger picture of what the art comes to mean, the gas mask symbolizes the world at war, biological contagions, environmental disaster, civil unrest. Duality is very important to me, I developed an outlook through Hip-Hop that attempts to balance the commercial and the conscious, the sacred and profane, the struggle and the success. By this I mean we as a subculture/country/world can’t become so polarized – we don’t live in 2 worlds, one of opulence and pride or one of poverty and despair, it’s the same place and we should be aware and embrace both. Some days are JAY Z days and you feel untouchable, like a king – some days are Immortal Technique days and you feel like the whole world’s going to Hell in a hand basket. That duality is what the masks represent: the style, the joy, the art of culture represented by the shoes and the struggle, the pain, the fear of reality represented by the gas mask.
IG: What is your inspiration for designing new masks, especially for commissioned masks? In other words, how are you evolving as an artist with this craft?
FP: Each mask I create is 1 of a kind, I’ll never use the same shoe twice (a different color of that shoe maybe, but always constructed in a new way). Commissioned work has been a blessing, it’s brought a lot of opportunity to me and the artwork. At the same time it means that my collectors have had a lot of say in the direction of the work because when they commission a mask they pick and supply the shoes. I’m much more conscious of that now and always have a couple of personal projects in the works. I also have some amazing collectors who want to see the work grow so they trust me and my creative decision making. Each mask is a step in my evolution as an artist. I keep it challenging and therefore interesting for me by continuing to try new techniques. Last year I began tinkering with resin casting and in February of this year I turned that into a business – with the help of my wife, @betsyvandeusen, I create miniature versions of my sneaker masks and we cast them in brilliantly colored resin to be sold as key chains, art toys and lace locks on freehandprofit.bigcartel.com.
IG: Can you tell me about your process and how you make these gas masks?
FP: They all start seemingly the same with the destruction of a coveted pair of sneakers. Then over the course of 6 weeks to 6 months depending on the mask, I piece together the puzzle – backwards. I compare the process to how a DJ or Producer will cut or sample a record and create something entirely new. It’s also a lot like how graf writers re-imagine alphabets and reshape letter forms. Once the mask is complete I begin coming up with a concept for the photo shoot. Depending on time and budget restraints that might mean photographing in a studio setting but my favorite places to photograph are back alleys, abandoned buildings, graffiti yards.
IG: What has the experience been like sharing this project on Instagram?
FP: Instagram has been hugely influential in my career as an artist. I actually finally gave in and bought an iPhone 4 (my first iPhone) solely for access to Instagram when a good friend, @mrsomething, made the strong suggestion that IG would be a great platform to share my artwork. I think his exact words were: “Dude, you’re going to blow up on Instagram.” I had no idea how right he was, it’s been one helluva ride and I’m watching the last few followers tick in before I hit 89K. The support from my fans/followers has been amazing and make all the hard work worth it. I also enjoy using hashtags to create virtual galleries of bodies of work. For example I did #m365threeyearsago – a chronological, 3 year anniversary, recap of the #MASK365 project – the project that started it all. I also have the #guerrillaartsquadron series hashtagged so folks can see the more than 100 different creature / character gas mask designs I’ve created.
IG: Who do you follow on Instagram that you love that I should know about?
FP: My favorite people to follow on IG are fellow artists: @13thwitness / @mrjeremyfish / @jamesjeanart / @hyrdosevenfour / @theseventhletter / @tristaneaton And of course sneakerheads / brands / blogs like: @8and9 @sneakernews @nicekicks @kicksonfire @mache275 @elcappy
IG: Are you a full time artist in LA?
FP: Yes, I moved to LA in 2006 after graduating from Corcoran College of Art & Design in DC – I grew up in the DMV area. For the first 4 years in LA, I worked at a print shop called Imprint Revolution and did my art and freelance design on the side. For the last 3 years or so I’ve been working full time as a professional artist. Proud to say that this year my wife, @betsyvandeusen, joined the ranks working as an artist full time. Together we make all of our art toys right from our humble home studio.
IG: Anything else I haven’t asked that you want to tell me about?
FP: There is a documentary in the works about me and my work, tentatively titled “A Cut Above”, being filmed by @chumediastudios. They’re documenting the process as I create my 100th sneaker mask – an elephant gas mask made from Jordan 3Lab5s based on a character I created called “The Hellafant” (part of my #guerrillaartsquadron series) It’s being filmed on RED cameras so the footage looks incredible – indepently funded at the moment so we’re looking for sponsors and looking at a release date later next year. Most of my work can be found on IG of course but for more info and a huge archive of mask art hit my website: freehandprofit.com. Thanks for the opportunity to speak with you!