Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail, long recognized as “the postman’s oath,” could well be the muralist’s motto, too. On Friday the 13th in 2020, as auspicious a day as ever, Molly Rose Freeman was working in Orlando as Tropical Storm Eta bore down on the Florida coast.
Dealing with such challenges is the price of admission for public art sometimes, and Freeman takes it in stride. With murals all around her adopted hometown, she’s used to fickle weather and precarious tasks like climbing ladders, operating machinery and being on her feet for long stretches of time. It’s worth it for what she calls “the grand prize” — watching passing spectators discover and interact with her work.
Freeman favors bright, uplifting colors, geometric shapes and dynamic, meditative patterns, and says she hopes people viewing her murals experience “that weightless feeling you get when you look at the ocean or a great valley or a sky full of stars. Even a fraction of that feeling, a little soaring in the stomach or the heart — that’s the gift I hope to give.”
Freeman, who comes from Durham, North Carolina, graduated in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from the University of North Carolina at Asheville. She moved to Atlanta three years later and has been painting walls from Midtown to Cabbagetown and Decatur to Alpharetta ever since. She’s painted more than 50 murals in cities from San Francisco to Miami and has worked with such public-art nonprofits as Living Walls, the Atlanta BeltLine and Forward Warrior. Her corporate clients include Mailchimp, the Atlanta Hawks, W Hotels and Microsoft. Her Salvation in the Land of Flowers and Honey brightens Concourse C at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, with its potential audience of 107 million, the number of travelers that pass through the hub most years.
Freeman became obsessed with patterns in college, she says on her website, and “would spend hours in the studio studying structure and practice drawing freehand so I could learn how each of them felt in my body. Over time, I built up a strong muscle memory, and I started to let them become more playful, more organic.” During a post-grad road trip through Italy with her mom, Freeman became — as so many artists have — enraptured once more by design elements on ancient structures. She gravitated toward “beautiful ceramic patterns in tiles in Positano, on cathedral domes in Sicily. They were all so different and all in these vibrant, earthy kinds of colors, like they reflected the colors of the landscape — the sea, the sky, the Earth itself.”
Murals often take tremendous effort to install, sometimes weeks to complete, and last only a few years in their full glory before they wear down, fade or fall victim to demolition or erasure. Freeman finds that impermanence appealing. “I like that murals have a life span because, to me, they feel like living things,” she says. “They change, just as places change, reminders of the passage of time and the dynamic cycles of life.” Freeman calls murals a “love poem to a specific place.” The designing and painting portion of her work “is a courting process. As I go along, the place reveals itself to me more and more, so it feels like an intimate exchange.”
Like so many of us, Freeman has adapted to frequent cancellations and postponed plans during COVID-19. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that she’s been able to do work that she’d put off in previous years. “In general, I’ve gotten used to my life being quieter and slower,” she says. “I have been using some new creative muscles this year, and I am excited to keep going.”
ArtsATL’s street art column appears monthly and is done largely in collaboration with Art Rudick and his Atlanta Street Art Map.