Up-and-coming artist’s new work proves worse than old

When I was 13, I was in middle school. I had braces, I had bangs, and I had a spray can full of dreams and aerosol. For a kid like me— outcast, nobody, different, outsider, punk —no one was more important than my street art hero, Freezecup. His art could be seen on the sides of bridges, tunnels, overpasses, underpasses, walls, trains, planes, automobiles– any flat surface that was stationary for one to 12 hours. His signature “mushroom cloud forests” appeared everywhere from the north side of town to the other side of town. He was unstoppable.

Freezecup has become a household name since then, finding commercial success after collaborating with his close friend and fellow street artist Shepard Fairey on an exhibit for the Whitney a few years back. I was so happy when all my friends started appreciating what I’d been seeing for years.

It was nice to be able to discuss his work without being ridiculed as a “loser,” a “nerd,” a “dork” or “lame.” People listened to what I had to say about his work instead of just yelling “You don’t even skate!” and then skating away, leaving me to wait for my mom to pick me up at Sonic all alone.

Freezecup and I have both changed a lot in the past few years. I’ve graduated middle and high school, gone to college, dropped out of college, gone to a different college, become a celebrated and much beloved humor writer and figured out that bangs were not a good look for me.

I thought Freezecup was doing well, too. He had two major murals commissioned, one in LA and one in Chicago, that maintained the authenticity of his original public works while looking to the future and bringing an underappreciated style to the world of high art. His latest work, however, is a drastic departure from his humble beginnings.

Freezecup designed his first solo museum show, which opened last month at the Hirshorn Museum. I was super disappointed. His new art just isn’t as good as his old art. I mean, it’s fine, but it looks a lot like all the other art that’s getting made right now. He maintains certain signature figures from his early days of tagging, but they’re just not the same anymore. And he decided to do a tribute to Andy Warhol where he just copied Andy Warhol’s repeated picture of Marilyn Monroe, but instead of Marilyn it was a mushroom cloud. I understand his throwback to his much beloved “mushroom cloud forests,” but, I mean, why? What’s he saying that’s new? Every piece in that show is so banal and predictable, especially his “Chicken with Four Legs.” Who didn’t see that coming?

Like many artists over the years, Freezecup has been corrupted by the hectic, fad-obsessed world of mainstream art. Or maybe he’s just out of ideas. He did get married and have a baby recently, so he has a lot going on in his life, but I’m still dismayed at the shift from his edgy, power-fighting beginnings to this pandering. It hits hard.

Part of me is still that 13 year old, beanie-wearing kid who just wants to fit in and only feels at home staring into the swirling colors and shapes of Freezecup’s works on my walk to school. I felt like he was saying something right to me and to only me, even among the throngs of people all around us.

It’s disillusioning, realizing that these heroes, these moguls, these giants among men, aren’t endless fountains of creativity primed to churn out timely revelations about life for each stage of my development. I don’t really know how to process it.

Do I just start liking a different artist? Do I decide that, yes, his early art is good, but maybe it’s time to move on? What if he does something killer while I’m not closely following his every move? No one takes time off and comes back with fresh perspectives after formative life experiences, so being patient is out of the question. Where do I find the fulfillment that the bond between Freezecup and myself provided?

These questions don’t have answers. All I can do is take it as a personal affront that Freezecup is no longer the powerhouse he used to be. I could acknowledge the good one work of art did in my life when I encountered it and then wait without expectation to find that experience again. I don’t think that’s reasonable though. Freezecup just needs to be less of a sellout.

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