Profiles

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The Art of Being Kiba

Stephon “Kiba” Freeman has made his mark as a spray paint artist

Jeanne Nagle | Profiles | February 2022

Anyone who has ever tried to freshen a piece of patio furniture or update a household tchotchke with spray paint knows that constant movement yields the best result. From continuously shaking the can to using a steady, gliding stroke while applying just the right nozzle pressure, motion is crucial to achieving the desired outcome—a smooth, beautiful finish.

Stephon “Kiba” Freeman ’14 knows a thing or two about all this. As a spray paint artist, Freeman strives for more than just attaining an even coat of color, however. He brings elements of design and creative vision to everything he paints, from canvasses to the entire sides of buildings. As for the bit about continuous movement, that describes not only his painting style, but the trajectory of his career as an artist as well.

Art is something that has captivated Freeman since he was a youngster. “I’ve always created/drawn things that I have been interested in,” he says.

That meant conjuring cartoons and comics as a boy, as well as homages to the anime shows and magna graphic novels he enjoyed as a teen. In fact, his “nom de paintbrush,” Kiba, comes from a character in the Japanese magna series “Naruto.”

“I started signing my work as Kiba because it was short and didn’t distract from my art,” he recalls. “It was sharp.”

Freeman’s passion for artistic endeavors carried through high school classes at Chicago’s Lane Tech College Prep, where he was able to major (yes, major) in fine arts. When he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, he switched it up a bit.

“UWSP gave me an opportunity to try many things and hone in on the things I enjoyed most,” he says.

One of the interests he gravitated toward at the university was photography. To hear him tell it, he took one introductory course on the subject and was hooked.

 “I loved the process and feel of film photography,” he says. “I enjoyed capturing the moments as they were, raw and unposed.”

His artistic horizons were broadened even further during a semester abroad in Italy. He was captivated by the Roman street artists who worked with spray paint, creating vivid masterpieces on the fly that they then sold to tourists. Sure, the thought of being able to sell his artwork was inspiring. But it wasn’t so much the hawking of creations that caught his attention as the bright colors and mutability involved in creating spray paint art.

“Working with spray paint is like trying to control chaos,” he says. “Or, rather, work with chaos. You can always paint over something you don’t like, so there really aren’t any mistakes, just lessons.”

The concept was so appealing to him that he went online and taught himself the techniques he had seen used in Rome.

“I have learned that I am a very process-oriented artist,” he says, “and if the process intrigues me, I will dive really deep into learning the style.”

After graduating from UWSP with a BFA degree, Freeman earned his keep working in retail while creating art on the side, which he primarily presented and sold at festivals. From there his reputation as an artist grew. He soon elected to make the leap and devote his energies exclusively to Kiba Freeman Art, the business he built and currently operates.

Freeman’s stock-in-trade are his spray paint creations. “Landscapes and space-scapes are themes that tend to reoccur often,” he says of the subject matter that springs from his own imagination. He estimates that almost half of what he produces these days is the result of commissions, where clients hire him to create a piece based on a theme or concept of their choosing.

“I generally enjoy commissions because they often present an idea or combination of ideas that I hadn’t considered yet,” he says.

As is the case with most traditional painting, Freeman’s work appears on canvasses, yet his pieces also adorn trash cans, clocks, puzzles … even cornhole boards. And then there are the murals. His vibrantly spray painted scenes and figures can be found brightening public alleys and the walls of business in Milwaukee and Waupaca, as well as a handful of garage doors throughout Stevens Point. Last summer Freeman completed one of his largest projects to date—a multipaneled, literacy-themed mural that stretches across the outside wall of Worzalla Publishing headquarters, installed as part of a CREATE Portage County initiative.

“I’ve given myself the life goal of painting at least one mural in every state,” he says. Freeman admits that he also wouldn’t mind assuming the mantle of “go to” muralist in the greater Stevens Point area and beyond.

Something else he wants to do more of in the future is, coincidentally, spray paint furniture. Again, though, this wouldn’t be simply adding hue to a backyard Adirondack chair. He wants to transform dressers, desks and tabletops into functional works of art.

Working at his craft is a dream come true, although it isn’t Freeman’s most rewarding job. That title would go to being a stay-at-home dad to daughter Soraiya. His wife, Jenna, a 2011 UWSP graduate whom he met on campus, is employed by the university as a support tech.

Freeman also teaches at Five Rings Martial Arts in downtown Stevens Point. There are parallels to be drawn between practicing Taekwondo, which he began as an undergrad, and the physical effort he puts into his artistic creations. “They kind of use the same energies,” he says, “which can be very draining at times. Taekwondo and art are both very important in my life.”

Teaching or mentoring others in the art of spray painting is another role Freeman would relish. He has led workshops and participated in residency programs throughout Wisconsin, but there are no plans in place for formalized instruction. However, he says, “I am willing to teach those who want to learn.”

One gets the distinct impression that it would be an honor for Freeman to share what he has learned about art with others, and release the untapped potential he feels is inherent in every individual.

“We are all creative souls at birth.”

 

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