Dot artist ‘gbfree’ finds stride with a unique neighborhood art series

Freeman in front of other art works. Seth Daniel photos

Dorchester’s George ‘gbfree’ Freeman was shopping in the Seaport a year ago and stopped in his tracks when he noticed a store promoting the neighborhoods and destinations of Boston. “Whatever I do, I tell a story of where I’m from,” he said. “I went into a store that had souvenirs … from every neighborhood but Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan. It was glaring, and I was mad initially.”

Infuriated by the omission, the artist began creating his ‘Neighborhood Series’ of paintings to tell the stories of places left out of the store’s “official” Boston story – places like the former Caribbean Cultural Center (Three C’s), Simco’s on the Bridge, the Lee School with its Boston Neighborhood Basketball League (BNBL) and Boston Raiders connections, WILD AM radio station, and Chez Vous roller rink, to name just a few.

“These are places I frequented all the time as a kid and wanted to keep alive in my art,” he said.

The results of his work were displayed last Saturday on Blue Hill Avenue in Grove Hall at The Muse Gallery, where Freeman gathered with family and friends to right what he saw as wrong and tell his own neighborhood stories.

A painting by George ‘gbfree’ Freeman of the former Caribbean Cultural Center (Three C’s) on Blue Hill Avenue

Known as ‘gbfree’ and creating his paintings under the ‘FromStreet2Canvas’ company, he grew up on Arbella Road on the Dorchester/Mattapan line and went to school in Wakefield via the METCO program. His family, including his 104-year-old grandmother, Elide Charles, still live on Arbella Road and his time in the neighborhood has formed a great deal of who he is, he said, just as many of his neighborhood places are slipping away from memory.

While his mother, Florence Charles, and his sister, Ciyata Freeman, said he had been drawing since second grade, and had encouraged him to show his work, his artistic talent was something the 37-year-old Freeman said he kept “under wraps.” He mostly stuck to pursuing a career in finance, with a keen interest in fashion and design.

In 2020, he was living in California pursuing his career when the pandemic hit, and he suddenly was out of a job. There was nowhere to go but home, he said, and he came back to Dorchester and found his stride in the art world by beginning to draw on a friend’s walls.

“His walls were blank, and he told me I should just do my painting on them,” said Freeman. “I started doing canvases and hanging them up. People would come by and see them and comment on them. Some people would ask if I was selling them. I sold my first one and realized there was something there.”

With a style that in equal parts resembles street art, pop art in the Roy Lichtenstein style, and art in high-quality graphic novels, Freeman paints only in black, white, and one other color. For his Neighborhood Series, he used yellow highlights.

The Series is his third show, with the first being about his artistic influences, and the second being a Black History timeline from 1692 to 1992. In addition to the sites mentioned above, the current show, already a big hit, also focuses on places like the former Brigham’s Ice Cream shop in Mattapan Square, Roxbury’s No Books, No Ball program, Skippy White’s record store, Muhammad’s Mosque #11, a portrait of Mel King, of James Brown at the Boston Garden in the 1960s, of Melnea Cass, and Wally’s Jazz Club in the South End.

Freeman said he donates a portion of all the sales from his art back to programs of his choice in Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury.

Chantal Cornely (aunt), George ‘gbfree’ Freeman, Florence Charles (mother), and Elide Charles, (grandmother, now 104).

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