Photography by Jordan Neal
Atlanta native, Freako Rico, is a symbol of the city’s unrefined elements. His artistic spirit is undoubtedly true-to-self, yet uncanny in its relevancy. His works are as iconic and distinctive as his personality. Freako’s unapologetic nature is something that is refreshing; especially, living amongst the constant smoozing that takes place within any major city. I sat down to talk with Freako at El’Myr to gain some insight into his background and to learn about what motivates him. Continue reading for the full interview below.
How did your passion for art come about?
I mean I was a kid. Honestly, I can’t explain that one. You know what? I’ve been doing art since I was a kid. I’m talking like four. I was addicted to it at a young age, drawing and making shit. I liked drawing stuff and showing people. So that’s been going on since I was a little kid. I wasn’t drawing the stuff, then, and keeping them. I was drawing my family, my pops, my brother and giving it to them. It was on anything, any type of paper. I remember drawing on my dad’s bills. I think he still has a couple of them. Yeah, messing up his shit, but I didn’t know. It was just paper. It was just passion early. It was harvested in grade school because I had some decent teachers that would tell my parents, “yo when he draws it’s different then everyone else.”
So your teachers helped you catch your talents early then?
Well my parents did. My moms really, she didn’t know what she was doing but she made sure I was into shit. If I wasn’t into shit I’d be bad, I’d be messing up stuff.
You ever get into Graffiti?
Yeah, when I was in High School, in Redan. I was over here [East Atlanta] all the time man. I was on the train. I would go pass the Pullman Yard on the train going westbound. Get off go look at it, ya know? I studied it more than doing it. I do it here and there.
Can you talk about your process when it comes to creating something?
When it comes to drawing, painting with a brush is more natural than drawing. I can just start on a painting quick and knock that out faster than a damn drawing. I’m talking like a full four foot scale painting I can knock out before I even complete a damn drawing. But usually I just bump some music man. Or play a video or a movie I want to watch or listen to, easy going. I don’t have any rituals or nothing like that. I don’t have to drink or smoke or nothing like that. I just get into it man. Like I said I’m still moving the same way I did when I was a kid, so I just get into it. I mean my space has to be somewhat clear and clean.
So you have to organize and clean things up before you create?
A little bit, but not much - I mean I learned that from being in college.
You went to Art School?
Nah, I went to Howard University. They gave me a full scholarship for painting. I went to school there for free, academically. I had an academic scholarship and I was on the dean’s list for all four years. Then I dropped out.
You dropped out after 4 years?!
I dropped out going into my fifth year. They pulled my scholarship from me and then I didn’t have anywhere to stay. Howard is totally different from how it is now. Like 2011 or 2012, they where about to break ground on building three new dorms and all my buddies, they graduated and were leaving. I didn’t have anywhere to stay man. I was staying in a spot that was two bedrooms for $2,300. I couldn’t afford it and I wasn’t about to jump around. I was kinda saying fuck this anyways. Then my teachers where like “yo, you’re technically finished. You finished your scheme in fine arts. You’re done in fine arts.” I had 15 credits left to graduate.
Do you think the whole undergrad mandatory class system is a problem in our education system?
Definitely for black kids, black kids don’t have the type of background to try to excel at everything. We pick one thing and it’s either basketball, football, arts, music [etc..] We don’t just dabble in everything. I think that’s a natural thing with us. We [pick] one thing and we’re good at it.
If you would like to categorize your artwork into a genre, what would it be?
Dude, honestly I’m all about saying I’m a black artist. I love it. Obviously, I’m black and obviously I’m making art. Now the type of genre that I’d call it would be expressionism. Especially my illustrations, I would call that expressionism in the full definition of it. That’s what it is.
The Black Arts Festival, I was trying to get into it last year. The curator told me no. I told myself that they don’t want nothing that’s outside of the norm. You try to big it up [Black Art], but they don’t want it because they don’t want it to lose their value. I’m black. I can make anything I want and call it black art. It’s not a genre it’s what it is. I’ve never been called a black artist.
You’re black and you’re an artist, but you’ve never been called a black artist?
Nah! African art dude, I studied that shit for years.
Is that something that your into?
Yeah, I like it. I just don’t show it in my work. I do show it in my work but it’s like…
I read that you like to stick to tangible mediums when you’re creating.
Honestly, all of the illustrations that I do are drawn first. Then I just scan it. I’ve had a lot of teenagers ask me - because a lot of teenagers think it’s a fad to do this shit and they don’t know how to draw at all man – their like how are you pulling this off? I was like, well I do draw this shit out first. I tell them I’m drawing with a micron pen. I tell them the exact millimeter and everything. Honestly, I’m about to go back to doing lyric illustrations. I’m about to use MF DOOM or something like that.
I wanted to ask you about DOOM, are you a fan?
Definitely, he dropped that damn Sade collab.
I haven’t heard it yet. Is it dope?
Yeah it’s only seven songs. I listened to it before I came here, but it’s dope. The crazy thing is I dabble in rap too. I’ve been telling people for about a year that I wanted to rap over Sade’s Sweetest Taboo. No baseline, just loop the song, that’s what he [DOOM] did. He just rapped over her instrumental. Like how do you do that? He’s the only guy that could pull that off man. I listen to a lot of MF DOOM when I’m drawing.
How did you get into BMX?
Man I’ve been BMXing since I was like 10. I didn’t get decent at it until I moved to D.C. So when I moved to D.C. and started visiting New York I started learning how to ride street. It’s more of a way of life. I live that shit!
Check out more of FRKO’s work here.