Expression of Freedom: Public Art Spotlight

Written by: Elysian Koglmeier on behalf of the Public Art Archive

“A work of art is a scream of freedom.” – Christo

Art and independence have been linked for centuries. Artists yearn for freedom of expression. They also use art to celebrate, challenge or invoke freedom in society. Artistic expressions of freedom take many forms in public art – from traditional monuments and triumphal arches to expressionistic sculpture to metaphorical murals and paintings – they all revere the history and independence of a community.

In honor of our country’s independence, won 241 years go, let us look to 7 public art works from the Public Art Archive that celebrate freedom.

Freedom of Speech

Location: Decatur, Georgia, City Hall

Artist: Norman Rockwell

 Date: 1943

Collection: City of Decatur

Photo Courtesy: City of Decatur

Freedom of Speech is one of four oil paintings in Normal Rockwell’s 1943 Four Freedoms series. The other works include: Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. The series refer to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms State of the Union address (1941) in which he spoke to the power of democracy and the importance of protecting essential human rights like freedom of speech. The four prints were displayed in public spaces like post offices, schools, railroad stations, and other public buildings, and are now on a tour organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum through through 2019.

Another former American president spoke to the importance of free speech and expression, especially for artists. John F. Kennedy said, “If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.”

 Learn more on its Public Art Archive page.

The Path of Thorns and Roses

Location: Alexandria, Virginia, Contraband and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial

Artist: Mario Chiodo

Date: 2013

Collection: City of Alexandria, VA

Photo Courtesy: Matthew Harwood

From the Public Art Archive page: The 18-foot tall and 7,500-pound bronze sculpture “is an allegorical depiction of the struggle for freedom. It includes figurative representations of Oppression, Struggle, Sacrifice, Loss, Compassion, and Hope – the highest figure – holding the unbloomed ‘rose of freedom’ as he stands on his tiptoes to avoid the thorns of oppression beneath him.”

Learn more on its Public Art Archive page

 The Flight to Freedom

Location: Coral Gables, Florida, Corner of Ponce de Leon Boulevard and Catalonia Avenue

Artist: John Angee

Date: 2012

Collection: City of Coral Gables Art in Public Places Program

Photo courtesy: John Angee

The sculpture is comprised of a series of four stainless steel birds; each 40-feet long by 20-feet high and 2-feet wide, and covers a 5-story parking area at the Zubi Advertising building. Birds are a beautiful representation of freedom; they symbolize the spirit of independence with their majestic soaring. From the Public Art Archive: “The Flight to Freedom is a metaphor about the significance of freedom and the need we have to remember freedom every day. It represents the flight of a bird from captivity up to the freedom of the sky.” Angee used stainless steel to represent the “strong nature of freedom.”

Learn more on its Public Art Archive page.

American Journey

Location: Tampa, Florida, Ybor City, 1800 E. Adamo Drive

Artist: Mike Parker

Date: 2013

Collection: City of Tampa

Photo Courtesy: Mike Parker

 This mural was designed and produced by muralist, Michael Parker, and supported by the City of Tampa. Community volunteers and art students from Hillsborough Community College Ybor Campus assisted with the creation of this 12,000 square foot work – the largest outdoor original artwork in Florida. Parker describes the obstacles faced when obtaining freedom – “Many of the people depicted in the mural faced hard choices between clinging to the past or reaching for tomorrow. The internal conflicts include the tension between Spanish and Cuban citizens during the Cuban Revolution, the struggle for equality among the black population, the changing role of women, the class conflict…” At the same time, the mural celebrates the successful assimilation of different cultures in our country. He states, “Throughout this mural shine the values of our nation – a place people from many nations came to enjoy freedom.”

Learn more on its Public Art Archive page.

Preamble to the Constitution, Free Assembly, Free Ballot

Location: Los Angeles, California, Bob Hope Patriotic Hall

Artist: Helen Lundeberg

 Date: 1942

Collection: Los Angeles County Arts Commission

Photo Courtesy: Unknown

Helen Lundeberg was commission by the U.S. Government’s Work Projects Administration, Federal Art Program (WPA/FAP) to create a mural series for the Los Angeles County’s Patriotic Hall. Unfortunately, these oil painted murals were removed in the early 1970s, 30-years after their installation, and have been subsequently lost. Lundeberg was supposed to create 9 murals, but ended up painting only 3. Congress ended the WPA and eliminated funding due to WWII. Lundeberg’s original concept was to paint the Preamble to the Constitution along with the 8 freedoms of the Constitution. She ended up depicting the Preamble (showing several founding fathers clustered around the Constitution’s Preamble), Free Assembly (illustrated by a group gathering for discussion), and Free Ballot (portrayed by citizens lining up to vote.)

Learn more on its Public Art Archive page.

Exercise in Democracy – For Under 500 Bucks

Location: Black Rock City, Nevada

Artist: Mark Grieve

Date: 2008

Collection: Artist-sponsored

Photo Courtesy: Ilana Spector and Mark Grieve

 This temporary public art project celebrated artists’ right to free speech. Exercise in Democracy – for Under 500 Bucks was the second act of a 3-part artwork. Mark and partner, Ilana Spector, picketed for two days outside of Burning Man in 2008. The theme for that year’s event was “The American Dream.” Grieve and Spector wanted to bring attention to what they considered an exploitative grant process. They led a peaceful protest with 1930’s style picket signs that read, “Art on Strike,” “Brush Your Teeth,” and “Burning Man HARD ON Art.” They wanted a transparent grant process and for artists to be treated with dignity. The exercised their freedom of speech, thought, creativity and expression by creating this performance piece.

Learn more on its Public Art Archive page.

Flowering Legacy of the Civil Rights Leaders

Location: Portland, Oregon, 3111 SE 13th Avenue

Artist: Hector Hernandez

Date: 2008

Collection: Regional Arts & Culture Council, Portland, OR

Photo Courtesy: Regional Arts & Culture Council

 Artist, Hector Hernandez, worked with students from the Oregon Leadership Institute at Portland State University to paint this mural. It features a Portland Rose with the faces of civil rights leaders on its petals. Leaders include Susan B. Anthony, Mahatma Ghandi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Cesar Chavez. Other freedom images include the Statue of Liberty protests, and a pioneer covered wagon. Hernandez has completed multiple murals in the communities of Oregon. His murals often reflect community issues on environment, education, multiculturalism, and social change.

Learn more on its Public Art Archive page.