By Bradley Donalson
Houston may not have the reputation of New York or Paris as an art city, but you’ll still be amazed as you drive around to see examples of the art Houstonians can and do create. From murals and graffiti to galleries and art schools, this town celebrates its ability to create and to inspire.
This sentiment inspired a group of local artists to bring Free Art Friday to Houston last August. Free Art Friday is an idea that has been around for some time in cities around the globe, and the concept is simple: local artists create pieces of art and place them throughout the city for people to find. If you find the art, you get to keep it! Artists post pictures of their drops on Instagram with the hashtag #htxfaf or #htxfreeartfriday, along with clues on where to find it.
The event is aided by @htxgroundcontrol (a username shared by the founders) in order to help everyone find the art. The art can be anything from spray paint to acrylics, needlepoint to jewelry, and there are no limitations on medium or size. Anyone can participate, and the attitude seems to be “the more the merrier.”
Local lesbians Caitlin Fredette (@fredetty) and Erica Perez (@pmunke) are both regular participants in Free Art Friday. They were introduced to the movement the same way that most people are—through their friends. Fredette first heard about Free Art Friday when her friend Black Cassidy (@ohnohedint) started talking about founding it. “His whole thing is that he’s always liked to trade art with friends or give people pieces,” Fredette says of Cassidy, “and this is that, sort of on a mass scale.” She is a printmaker who works mainly with etching and lithography (carving a linoleum block to create a relief image that can be printed almost like a stamp) as well as an oil painter who works in mixed media.
Fredette looks at Free Art Friday as a way to test herself and her art. “They are smaller [prototypes] that will eventually become larger pieces,” she says. “It’s putting it into the universe and seeing what people think about them.” She says the event has motivated her to create more. “I might be feeling lazy or overworked at the end of the week,” she says, “and I’ll just spend an hour on something and then put it out.”
Perez was introduced to the movement by following @Gonzo247, who is the founder and Chief of Operations at Aerosol Warfare. “When he put it out there that they were going to start doing Free Art Friday, I was all for it,” she says. Perez mostly works with stencils and spray paint as well as acrylics, but she had only made art for herself before participating. “I was worried about that at first, so I started as a hunter,” she recalls. “It’s just the adrenaline [of the hunt] and the rush of trying to be the first one to get it. And once you have it, it’s like, Yes, I beat everyone to it. This is mine now.”
After a few weeks of hunting, Perez decided it was time to start putting out her own artwork. Free Art Friday has encouraged her to improve her art, making it more complex. “The first couple of stencils that I put out were just one layer,” she said. “I’m now working with three, four, sometimes even up to eight layers of spray-paint stencils.”
Both Fredette and Perez agree that the biggest change they’ve seen since the movement started last year is the number of people who are participating. Fredette explains, “At first it was just a handful of people who were aware that it existed; now there are more and more people. Last time I hid an art piece, it was found in five minutes.” (Our interview took place on a Friday, and the art she had hidden in a parking lot was gone by the time we had finished chatting.) And while most of the art is hidden in Montrose or the Heights, it has been expanding throughout Houston, with pieces being dropped as far as Sugar Land and Galveston.
While Free Art Friday is a celebration of art, sometimes the art can help draw attention to other causes. Perez and Fredette both have plans to create Pride-themed Free Art pieces around the time of June’s Pride events. Perez is currently working on a commission to create a creature in Pride colors, and this has gotten her contemplating her own Pride piece.
“I am thinking of something [like a] Trojan horse in the Pride colors with the capitol building in the background,” she says, “symbolizing us penetrating the government and the capitol, and finally getting in there.” With the Supreme Court poised to rule in favor of marriage equality, it seems like a fitting tribute.
Fredette’s take on Pride is broader—she’s looking to drop a multitude of pieces in Montrose. “If anything, I’ll probably do a bunch of radical lesbian feminist stuff around Houston,” she says. “Just be completely obnoxious and drop off a whole bunch of stuff and blow up everyone’s Instagram feed . . . with a message.” A message, she says, that celebrates who we are and where we’ve come from.
I don’t know about you, but I plan on being out and about on the Friday before Pride in the hopes of adding to my personal art collection.
You can check out the free art being done by Houstonians on Instagram by searching the hashtag #htxfreeartfriday—and don’t forget to check out @pmunke and @fredetty. More information can be found at htxfaf.com.