Gary Lockwood, aka Freehand Profit, poses with his 3D intricate sneaker mask piece created using well-known sneaker brands. PHOTO COURTESY OF SCAD
Artist Gary Lockwood, aka Freehand Profit, has announced his debut museum exhibition titled Face Value in the sneaker hub of Atlanta at SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film.
For the past 12 years, Freehand Profit (@freehandprofit) has deconstructed rare, expensive and highly sought-after classic sneakers into elaborate masks. He samples and reimagines the raw materials into sacred objects, keeping contemporary injustices and crises like civil unrest, war and climate change in mind. Inspired by hip-hop culture, Freehand Profit has dedicated his work to paying homage to the “emcees, DJs, graffiti writers, and the B-boys and B-girls who laid the foundation and everyone since who has pushed the rock forward and kept hip-hop alive and relevant all these years.”
3D mask pieces on display for public viewing PHOTO COURTESY OF SCAD
The exhibit features over 30 of the artist’s elaborate masks transformed from sneakers, including the Nike Air Max, Travis Scott Jordan 1s, Yeezys, glow-in-the-dark Doernbecher Jordans, Nike SB Dunks and Asics. Face Value will be on display at SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film (@scadfash) until Sept. 11. Here, Freehand Profit explains his work’s inspiration, meaning and significance.
What first got you into hip-hop, graffiti, sneakers and art? Have these interests sparked your career as an artist to levels you couldn’t have imagined when you first started?
Art came first for me. I was always drawing as a kid, but it wasn’t long before hip-hop made its way into my life. Growing up in the early ’90s, it seemed like West Coast rap was everywhere, even the suburbs of Northern Virginia. I heard Snoop, Dre, Cypress Hill, Ice Cube and Coolio on the radio and couldn’t get enough. Being an artist who became obsessed with hip-hop, the obvious art form to explore was graffiti. I also believe that the fifth element of hip-hop is participation; I didn’t want to merely consume hip-hop, I wanted to contribute to it.
It’s hard to say how much of this I saw coming. I knew I would have a career in the arts; it wasn’t clear what exactly that would be. I didn’t necessarily want the limelight, but I knew I wasn’t going to sit on the sidelines either. The biggest surprise to me is that it was sculpture that would become the focus of my work and what I’m best known for. Most of my life I focused on drawing, painting, design and photography—anything 2D. I couldn’t have predicted this path, and because of that I put a lot of faith in organic growth. It’s important to have a big dream or a clear vision for your future, but that can sometimes blind us to the opportunities we couldn’t see coming.
What does it mean to you as an artist to have your works presented in your first museum exhibition? What drew you to SCAD FASH, and what was it like working with the curator for Face Value?
I’ve admired SCAD for years. It’s an incredible institution, from the facilities to the faculty, truly top-notch all round. They even now have a sneaker design program! Rafael Gomes curated Face Value for SCAD FASH and I can’t thank him and the university enough for this opportunity. He found my work while browsing sneaker pages on Instagram. When he reached out with an invite to have an exhibit at SCAD FASH, it was a no-brainer for me. Rafael and everyone at SCAD FASH have been exceptional, from the prep and presentation of the show to the hospitality while I was in Atlanta. It also means so much to me to be able to share my art and journey with the students.
An artist’s first museum exhibition is a meaningful confirmation that their work has made an impact. Personally, it’s a real ‘smiles and cries’ moment. All the folks who’ve shown love and support over the years—collectors, fans, friends, family—this is a testament to them, a co-sign to what they’ve been saying all these years. And for the folks who said I wouldn’t make it, couldn’t do it or wanted to see me quit… well, this is for them too. In the words of Wale, ‘…I really pray that [they] don’t fall, so they can watch me ball.’
How were you able to maintain the most visible and iconic symbols of the sneakers while evolving the innovative aesthetic of the design at the same time?
I think there’s a combination of factors that allow me to balance what the sneakers are with the mask that they’ll become. First is my background in graffiti. A graf writer learns how to twist letter forms in ways that play with legibility and style—how many different ways can you write the letter A and have it still be an A. Decades of graffiti have proved that there is an infinite number of possibilities. The second factor is how I dissect and deconstruct the sneakers. It’s not a frivolous destruction; each cut is considered. I see it as remixing the sneaker the way a DJ or producer cuts or samples an existing record to create a whole new sound.
You’ve stated that you’ve set your mind to exploring and expressing the visual languages of hip-hop. How would you describe the visual languages of hip-hop, and are your masks an example of that?
The visual languages of hip-hop I refer to are styles, symbols, icons and other references that can be combined, elevated and examined through our understanding of hip-hop and its effects on mainstream culture. As I mentioned, it’s also about how those elements are transformed and reimagined, in the spirit of emcees, DJs, graffiti writers, and the B-boys and B-girls.
Do you believe that the deconstruction of highly coveted, rare and expensive sneakers into masks that represent themes of contemporary injustices and crises creates a different point of view for the materialist mindset?
I think that the sacrifice of objects of desire is what holds the possibility to change our point of view and help us loosen the grasp materialism can have on us. It’s especially important to be aware of when it’s so deeply intertwined with culture. There’s a quote by Charles Du Bos: ‘The important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.’ It’s not just about the act of destroying them, it’s about transforming them. And I think masks, namely the gas mask in the modern age, have the ability to tell our stories just as they have for millennia. At their core, the sneaker masks I create represent the dichotomy of our world, one we should celebrate and one we should work to improve.
Masks, from left: No.70 Jordan Toro IV Gas Mask; No.192 Jordan 1 Infinity Gauntlet; No.113 ASICS Gel Lyte III “San” Gas Mask. PHOTO COURTESY OF SCAD
What are some experiences or knowledge you attained from your childhood, living in L.A., and embarking on this exhibition at SCAD FASH that have impacted and shaped your career as an artist?
My family has always been very supportive of my creativity—that goes a long way. And my dad is a real DIY kind of guy; he’d show me how to build stuff and tinker with computers. I also had incredible art teachers in high school, namely Ms. Flo. Her guidance and encouragement was extremely impactful.
Living in L.A. made it clear how many of us are just surviving, and how big the gap is between those thriving and those surviving. I spent my first few years in Los Angeles working and designing for rappers and indie record labels. That taught me a lot about how to market myself and the work early on; it showed me a lot of the ins and outs of various industries and taught me some hard lessons.
What are you doing to ensure you continue growing and developing as an artist?
While I don’t say I’m naturally ‘talented,’ I would say I’m naturally motivated. I’ve never had to worry about making sure I grow. My struggle is more with accepting the rate at which I grow; ideas come fast, but it takes time to execute these visions. As dreams get bigger, there’s a greater distance between the ideation and realization, far less instant gratification. I’m continuing to learn digital sculpting/3D modeling in programs like ZBrush and Blender and working in Web3 where I see a lot of potential for artists and art collectors.