The life of any true artist is a journey. The art is like a road map of that journey. And like the scenery on any great road trip, it is always changing.
The art evolves. It reflects all the people, places and things that come into that artist’s life.
Ralph Wayne Freer is a true artist.
He looks at his art in the past. He looks at his art in the present.
He cannot tell you what his art of the future will look like, because he isn’t there yet.
The thing he loves most about getting older is that it is freeing.
“I no longer feel a need to please anyone with my art other than myself,” grins Freer. “But the fact that there are other people who love it and but it is a definite plus!”
Indeed, Freer has clients who have literally bought thousands of dollars worth of his art. Most of them have now become very good friends. And they are as excited as he always is to see what comes next.
Freer was born and raised a Missourian. His family home, located outside of Poplar Bluff near Williamsville, has now become part gallery, and part workshop. The Civil War era home has become home of the “Flying F Gallery”.
His mother was a Collins, and the building that once were the family’s home and a general store now serve as his gallery and workshop. The home he shares with wife, Gaelle, is much like a gallery, also, housing surprise after surprise. With every turn of a corner, there is something spectacular to see.
Freer is a sculptor, mostly of wood, but he also sculpts in stone, or pretty much any medium which strikes his fancy.
When asked how he became an artist, Freer is somewhat puzzled by the question.
“I have just always loved art,” said Freer. “I guess I was born this way.”
He also credits his father’s army career as being a big influence on his love of art.
“We traveled Europe, and I was fortunate to get to visit many great art museums,” he recalled. “But more than that, I think I got to see how art reflects humanity and culture. I was very intrigued by that.”
But his bachelor’s degree took him into the education field. While living in Springfield, he got to know an artist by the name of Harold Enloe, who got him started on sculpting Ozarkian Hillbilly figures.
“It was folk art,” he explained.
And so the journey began.
He ended up in Florida. While in Key West, he started more formal art training.
Though education was his vocational field, art became his creative outlet.
“I found that art is what really made me happy,” says the artist.
He started carving wood, sometimes walnut, sometimes local cherry, and even mahogany.
Though Floridians dread hurricanes, Freer found the storms gave him a plentiful wood supply for carving.
“A storm would go through, and people would give me wood from all the trees on their properties that had been damaged in the storm,” explained Freer.
He started adding other elements to his sculptures, like bits of glass, clay, or metal.
“It was like playing to me,” he laughed.
Though now back in Missouri, Freer continues to do many art shows in the Key West area. Because Key West is a crossroads for travelers, his pieces are now scattered around the world.
When asked about his process for creating art, Freer says he basically finds interesting shapes and objects, and then immediately starts re-arranging them in his head.
“I’d say if there is a common theme, it is the human figure. I find it fascinating in its complexity,” said Freer.
And like many artists before him, he interprets the human figure in new and interesting ways.
Now, he has entered a new phase in his art, which is more like construction than sculpting. He calls his latest creations his “Toys”, and many of them resemble techno robots often doing very human things.
“This is more of a whimsical stage for me,” said Freer. “And I am having so much fun with it!”
Lately he is even adding lighting to many of the pieces, which create some interesting optical illusions. He describes them as geometric wall sculptures that are backlit. They seem to change and pulsate with life.
But Freer also does a lot of consignment work and produces work for several shows.
He currently is helping to create pieces for a Van Buren home which he finds very challenging, because the owner of the home comes to him with an idea of what she wants, then he interprets that idea with his own style.
Freers artistic pieces can take anywhere from months to a year or more to complete, because most of them are large, often standing at over 6 feet tall.
But no matter how large the project, it all starts with an idea, and a doodle. He carries pen and paper with him anywhere he goes, always open to forms that he will find interesting enough to turn into a piece of art.
“Sometimes I just see something that triggers an idea,” he explained.
Is there a message to the viewer in his work?
“No…I want the viewer to come up with their own interpretation,” said Freer. “That’s what keeps it interesting. Different people will interpret the same piece of art in different ways.”
What he has discovered on his own artistic journey is that art is a universal language.
“Really…art ties all humans together. If you look at art around the world, you realize we are all far more the same than we are different,” said Freer. He also has come to realize that art and history are very much connected.
“Even primitive people did some very sophisticated drawings,” added the artist. “I think humans have an innate need for self-expression. And it’s obvious that art is always influenced by cultures from around the world. Picasso was very influenced by African art. Art reflects who we are not just culturally, but who we are at the core of our beings as humans.”
How does Freer see his own art?
“I think my art will be my legacy,” he concluded.
As a matter of fact, he views art as a human legacy.
The art he sees being produced now in the United States he notes is reflective of the evolution taking place in our culture.
“There was a time when America did not pay much attention to art. We were an industrial nation. All of the great museums were in Europe. But now I see that changing,” said Freer. “Something is happening in America. We are becoming more aware that life and our time here is about more than producing. I think we are at a point where even in small towns like Poplar Bluff, there is getting to be much more of an awareness of art and its importance to us culturally. I think we live in exciting times.”
“I think we are on the verge of a very important change,” smiled Freer. “It is fascinating to see this.”
And though his Flying F Gallery might seem to be out in the middle of nowhere, it is actually plugged into the whole thing.
“This is the perfect place for me right now,” he said, sitting in his rocking chair on the porch of what was one time a general store. An American flag sways in the breeze, and he watches a Mustang zoom by the winding road that is Highway W.
They had it all wrong when they said “All roads lead to Rome.”