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A Fresh Guide To Florence With Fab 5 Freddy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 25, 2019

Music pioneer Fab 5 Freddy is most well-known for hosting the seminal Yo! MTV Raps, but his earliest public attention came because of his art.

In the late 1970s, Freddy became a member of the Brooklyn-based graffiti group the Fabulous 5, known for painting the entire side of New York City Subway cars. Along with other Fabulous 5 member Lee Quiñones, under his direction they began to shift from street graffiti to transition into the art world and in 1979 they both exhibited in a prestigious gallery in Rome Italy, Galleria LaMedusa. In 1980, he painted a subway train with cartoon style depictions of giant Campbell’s Soup cans, after Andy Warhol.

Freddy is back on the art scene as the host of a BBC2 documentary, A Fresh Guide To Florence With Fab 5 Freddy.

Hip hop pioneer Fred Brathwaite — aka Fab 5 Freddy — goes on a quest to uncover the hidden black figures of Italian Renaissance art. “Not only were Renaissance artists making art that defined high aesthetic ideals, but they were also groundbreaking in showing an ethnically diverse, racially mixed Italy in the 15th and 16th century. You just have to look at the art.”

Pairing a hip hop legend with Renaissance art might seem like a bit of a stretch, but NYC in the 70s and 80s was a place that a curious kid could get into all sorts of things: hip hop, graffiti, and Caravaggio.

“When I was a kid,” he says, “I would cut school to travel around Manhattan museums.” The Metropolitan was his favourite because of its lax entry policy. “I would show up and toss a nickel in the admissions box then spend a day in fantasy land, going from English armour to Renaissance paintings, pop art to expressionism.”

It was an unusual interest, not one he could share with “the kids on the corner from the hood”. But it sparked his own artistic career as a subway graffiti artist and led to a lasting bond with Basquiat, who he met as a teenager. “He would spend a lot of his childhood at the Brooklyn Museum just as I did at the Met,” he says. “Finally, there was someone I could talk to about Caravaggio and Rothko. We were both so impressed with the radical nature of modernist manifestos like futurism. They gave us — two young, black kids — the capacity to articulate what we wanted to say.”

There doesn’t seem to be a trailer or any clips available online and I don’t know if this will be released in the US at all, but I would love to see this show up on Netflix or Amazon at some point.

See also Susan Orlean’s 1991 profile of Fab 5 Freddy for the New Yorker.