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Q&A with the Johnny Freedom: Local Artist

Did you know Wichita’s Art community is alive and well? It’s thriving with so many events around town displaying local artist’ work.

Today at Wichita By E.B., we sit down with one of those artists who’s work has been displayed all over town. He is Johnny Freedom and the latest guests in our Q&A Series!

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Johnny’s artwork

Eddy: Johnny, I know this Q&A, has been a long time coming. I want to thank you for taking the time to be here with us. Could you tell the readers about yourself?

Johnny: My name is Johnny Freedom. I’m a native of Wichita, born and raised here. I have been married to my wife, Aimee (also a native Wichitan) for 22 years this May. We have three kids, all teenagers.  I left Wichita after high school and couldn’t wait. I thought Wichita sucked. It was 1991 and it was kind of the thing to say, “I’m from Wichita. Yeah, it sucks.”  I was in the Marine Corps, living in California. Then moved to Arizona and then onto some other places where my job took me. I kept coming back to visit family and I noticed Wichita kept developing.  Downtown was developing, as was Old Town and Delano. Then the Design District. The east side grew and so did the west side. I told my wife, “Wichita got cool!”  Eventually, I requested a transfer back to Wichita and moved back in January 2009. I couldn’t be happier to be back and prouder to call Wichita my home.

Eddy: I must admit I was in the same boat except I never had the balls to leave town. But once getting to college at Wichita State and meeting some friends that would last leave a lifetime, I came to realize I loved the city. Back to you though, you’re most recognized for your artwork. How did you get started into painting?

Artwork from Johnny can be found on his Instagram

Johnny: I got my start in painting 2 years ago. I work at the Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County in the Internet Crimes Against Children unit.  I’m an ultrarunner, which is great to clear my mind from some of the things we experience in this type of work. I knew I needed a way to clear my mind by expressing myself, rather than just running.  I began to work on some pallet projects that I saw online. Since I’d moved back, I’d become obsessed with the Wichita flag after learning about it. I decided to use one of the pallets I’d found to make a Wichita flag. Jennifer Ray, the owner of The Monarch, contacted me and asked to buy it. JACO General Contractors bought the next one I made. Then a couple friends started reaching out to me and other people through Instagram. Before I knew it, I’d made over a dozen Wichita flags. I started painting other Wichita landmarks and our city landscape on pallet wood and other materials I’d recovered from trash bins and old homes and the response was great. A friend, Shannon Boone, offered to host my first Final Friday. To be honest, I had no idea what a Final Friday was. Shannon guided me through that first show and teamed me up with Brickmob, who are an awesome group of designers, artists, and activists I now call my friends, and the rest is kind of history.

Eddy: Any inspirations you were able to draw from in helping you grow as an artist?

More samples of Johnny’s work

Johnny: I’m really new to the art scene in Wichita and I really struggle with calling myself an artist because I respect the artists in this city so much.  The artists, designers, and makers in Wichita have all been so kind, encouraging, helpful…I could go on and on. They are all just a great group of people I love very much. The artists in this town don’t get enough credit for the wonderful things they do for our city. Armando Minares, Curt Clonts, Wade Hampton, Hannah Scott, Christopher Garcia, Sean Christopher Ward, Christopher Gulick, Dustin Parker, Kody Ramsey…these are all people I’ve had the opportunity to interact with and they encourage me. I admire them so much and appreciate how much they contribute to the art community in Wichita.  I have learned something from each of them and they are only a few of the wonderful creators doing amazing things in Wichita. The gallery owners and business owners that host artists have also done so much to encourage artists and grow the art movement in Wichita. MakeICT and Yellowbrick Street Team are both organizations that are helping connect people and provide resources for creation.  Lots of exciting things are happening and it’s more of a challenge to fit things into your schedule than to find something to do. It blows my mind when people say there’s nothing to do. There’s TOO MUCH TO DO!  The city and its people are my inspiration. Also taking things that people throw away and transforming them is a great source of motivation for me.  We are a throw-away society and I hope some of the creations I make will open people’s eyes to changing that. Recently I’ve done some collaborations with people like Brewer Ryan Kerner and DJ Carbon, who are artists of their own crafts, and that has been an awesome source of inspiration for me.

Wichita Flag

Eddy: So where can people find your art? Or even just pictures of it?

Johnny: My Instagram page has been a great source for me to showcase my pieces, sell them, and connect with other amazing people in the city. I do a lot of bartering and trading with local businesses for Wichita flags. I love to barter and so do the businesses. I have Wichita flags in River City Brewery, Central Standard, Hopping Gnome, First Gear, The Monarch, and FNL Denim to name just a few places. Janelle King from The Workroom contacted me to be involved with the very first Avenue Art Days in the Design District and that’s what got the Wichita flag murals going.  Right now there are four Wichita flag murals: the insurance building east of the QT at Washington and Douglas, the Doo Dah Diner, Dunning & Dunning building, and the apartment building across from Tanya’s Soup Kitchen.

Eddy: I think the Wichita Flag has been the single most piece of artwork that has really gone “viral” so to speak in the social media presence in town. I’m not crafty at all and wish I was. What advice would you have to people like me or even anybody else who may be interested in taking it up as a hobby?

at FNL Denim

Johnny: My advice: Just go for it. Wade Hampton said something a while back and I’ll butcher it, but basically he said to make what you want. Some people will like it and some people won’t, but just keep doing your thing if it makes you happy. That struck home with me.  Initially I had been so worried about only making things that I thought people would like. Now I just make what I like and I can always find someone who likes it, too. I’ve made some things and thought, “wow, this is going to kill it” and it sat in my garage for months. I’ve made things and thought, “wow, this is crap” and it sold in 5 minutes. You never know, so just create and have fun.

Eddy: What’s funny is I have the same reaction every time I write a blog…..”wow, this is crap.” but then I hit publish and wait for all ten people who follow my blog to read it. So moving on to my favorite thing to do in town….eating. You definitely make your way around Wichita so you must be familiar with the restaurants. What are your three favorite places to eat in town?

Johnny: This is messed up because I could eat a different great place in Wichita every night. There are some really good food spots and food trucks in Wichita. These are definitely in my Top 10 and I’ll even tell you my go-to dish.  The Penny’s Special at Dempsey’s is so good I ate it two nights in a row the last time it was the special.  It’s so good, I wanted to make out with the chef. The Kansan pizza at River City is delicious and make sure to pair it with one of the infamous sours by Brewer Ryan Kerner. The Brisket Salad sandwich at the Monarch is off the hook with the BBQ kettle chips. Plus the Monarch has so much local art hanging up it should be considered an art gallery.

Eddy: Anything else about yourself readers should know?

Johnny: I’m also the voice of FC Wichita, the 4th division soccer team that plays in the summer at Stryker Soccer Complex.  Josh Kippenberger and I call the games on the team’s YouTube channel. Mike Zarich from MJ Productions and I travel with the team to all the away games and stream the games back to the fans. I’m also the announcer for the Friends Falcons men’s and women’s soccer teams.  Josh and I used to call the games for the now defunct, Wichita B-52’s indoor soccer team.  Soccer is one of the loves of my life.

Eddy: Well Johnny, it’s been a true pleasure getting to know you. I follow you on Instagram and your stuff is incredible. Keep up the good work. Readers, you’ll definitely want to follow his Instagram if you want to see come cool work and get details on where you can find his stuff displayed at.

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If you know of anybody that would be great as a guest of the Wichita By E.B. Q&A Series, feel free to e-mail me at wichitabyeb@gmail.com. I’m looking for anybody who impacts Wichita in any sort of way whether they be business owners, restaurateurs, volunteers, whomever. Thank you!

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