Visual Arts » 2D

Fiddler on the Roof

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Skip Freas (freeze) might just be a superhero. By day, he surveys rooftops in need of repair, masquerading as the service manager for Indianapolis Roofing and Sheet Metal. The work is necessary and comes with the thrill – or abject terror – of heights, including Indy’s own 32-story Market Tower, from which Freas has been known to dangle.

By night, Freas trades his safety harnesses and ladders for a few hours in front of a computer screen, where he creates and manipulates digital images using software such as Photoshop, Illustrator and Corel.

It isn’t hard to imagine a person switching gears between their personal and professional interests, but it feels a bit like Freas has a secret identity. He's rough, gruff and tumble during the light of day, but aloft in creative pursuit as darkness falls.

To date, Freas has completed hundreds of images, everything from cityscapes to ethereal, haunted faces that sometimes overlap, hinting possibly at the complexity of the human condition ... but there’s the rub. When Freas creates his art, he’s not out to say anything in particular.

Scaling skyscrapers and rooftops by day, Skip Freas stays grounded by his creative pursuits at night. -
  • Scaling skyscrapers and rooftops by day, Skip Freas stays grounded by his creative pursuits at night.

“I think people are always disappointed,” he says. “So many people are communicating through their art and trying to say something about drama and pain.”

Freas maintains that his primary focus is simply “That picture would be cool,” but certainly there is more of a message in his work that perhaps he realizes or cares to admit. As with any artistic creation, the viewer approaches the work with his or her own agenda and experiences.

Freas might “just” be creating a digital image, but his forest scenes elicit calm. Surreal images of stairs disappearing into nowhere tug at an unrealized loneliness deep in the heart. His comely female figures in various states of undress beckon from the screen.

The fact that Freas is both a roofer and an artist has never been an issue. “There’s more surprise in the art world that I’m a blue-collar guy than vice versa, but it’s an anomaly either way," he says, happy to split his time between his day job and his artistic work. "I can’t just be one or the other.”

“I get to do it because I want to. I think [making art] for a living would be kind of a drag, because I wouldn’t want to stop enjoying it. It takes the pressure off.” At the end of the day, he explains, when everything settles down and everything is done, he delves into his art.

“There’s certainly an escapism element to it,” he says, using his computer time to unwind at the end of a long day. Some pieces he shares immediately and others he lets marinate, knowing they might never be seen by anyone except himself or a few close friends.

Cirque Bizarre  demonstrates Freas' use of digital manipulation with photo images. -  - SKIP FREAS
  • Skip Freas
  • Cirque Bizarre demonstrates Freas' use of digital manipulation with photo images.

He posts a selection of his work on his Facebook page. “I want to do something with this ‘stuff,’" he says. “I just don’t know what that is. At some point, you have to ask if you have good artwork or really nice friends.”

He has hosted art shows in the past and long ago established a place for himself in the arts community, but he isn’t currently showing his work. He becomes quiet when he shares that he feels self-conscious at art shows.

Simultaneously, he acknowledges that a requirement of showing his work is that he is seen as well. “If I could do this and the images would just sell, it would be ideal, but that’s not how you play the game,” he says.

Freas struggled for the longest time with the direction his digital art should take, since “painting and sculpture are the ‘real’ art.” He’s in something of a quandary, noting that anything that can be mass-produced loses value. The impetus is to create work that means something to someone. He says there’s also a preset snobbery about digital work. He works from photographs he purchases online, but technically enhancing images rather than seeing them develop in a darkroom means the work is sometimes not considered art. Thankfully, there are no limits when it comes to the definition of art.

In his artistic statement, he says, “There are two great joys of being an artist. The enjoyment of creating the piece to work with familiar materials and create something that was never there before. The other part is the best part -- to share the image with someone else. I really think that art is a conversation, a dialogue between the artist and the viewer. Without you, it's simply creating art for art's sake.”

Remembering the Future  is among Freas' collection of digitally manipulated images. -  - SKIP FREAS
  • Skip Freas
  • Remembering the Future is among Freas' collection of digitally manipulated images.

Freas is largely self-taught as an artist. He lists a variety of influences, including Norman Rockwell, Ansel Adams, Michael Parkes, Roger Dean and Renaissance painter Albrecht Dürer. Freas learned to draw by copying what they did, pulling fantastical elements into his work.

“I can do whatever the hell I want,” he says. “I can put a tree [in a picture] and set it on fire.” The freedom of digital work allows him to explore a variety of styles, a decidedly more difficult task had he stuck with photography.

“I wanted to be Ansel Adams when I was a little kid,” he says, acknowledging he had the eye but not the technical skill necessary. Working with Chuck Herthoge, a longtime friend and artistic collaborator, has been invaluable to Freas’ work. “I would see and set up the shot and Chuck would finish it. He’s my editor and Photoshop is my darkroom.”

It’s far more acceptable these days to be a digital print artist, Freas believes. When digital photography came into favor, working in a darkroom “seemed like a pain in the a_ _ -- a chemical, scary-fire pain in the a_ _.”

Watching his work literally develop was thrilling, but also a lot of work. Happily ensconced in a world of pixels and code, Freas can create flowers that will never be seen in nature. He likens his work in Photoshop to creating a found object sculpture.

Daisey  by Skip Freas. -  - SKIP FREAS
  • Skip Freas
  • Daisey by Skip Freas.

“I add layers, and it becomes a composite of elements,” he says.

He’s currently in another self-teaching mode, learning how to create his work using a digital pad and pen that he received for Christmas. Though his new creations remain offline, because he doesn’t want to share his "learning curve images.”

“The pen thing is frustrating ... I’m used to the fluidity of using a mouse and being right-brained,” he says. “I have to use my left brain to learn [the digital pad], and I can’t be creative with it until I’m good at it.”

Above all, Freas is thankful there’s an undo button for his “Ooh, that’s a bad idea” moments. “You don’t get to be good without pushing through all the crappy stuff you create while you learn,” he admits.

Check out Freas’ work on Facebook and explore categories such as It Figures (figure studies), Mind’s Eye (abstract/bizarre work) and Sight Unseen (“relatively normal” images). And stay tuned to his digital collection for the work he’s creating as his style shifts.

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