Artist Deirdre Freeman Puts Pure Love on Canvas

She calls her art “heartwork,” and is dedicated to doing good in the world.


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Art courtesy Dierdre Freeman

For Alameda artist Deirdre Freeman, love is the thing. It’s the purpose that informs her work. Even when she is feeling sad or otherwise imperfect, she tends to create art that makes others happy and may even heal them.

She calls it “Heartwork” — artwork that comes from a very deep store of love and commitment to doing good in the world. She firmly believes that art can transform lives.

“I would highly recommend art expression to anyone who has had to work through and conquer difficulties in life because of the inherent healing component it has. My art is pure love on paper or canvas,” she said.

Freeman grew up in San Diego, the child of two artists, a graphic designer and an architect. For several years she attended a performing arts school where she sang, danced, acted, played the violin, and thrived. She recalled that it was the perfect place for her to freely express her creative self. Freeman took her first formal art class at age 10, though she is fairly certain her parents didn’t think she had any particular aptitude at all.

“I remember having to paint a model holding a large tuba. I had to make her look like me or it wouldn’t be much fun. I wasn’t happy with how it turned out, primitive and flat, but it was chosen to hang in the San Diego children’s museum for several months,” she said. After the exhibit came down, her father bought the painting from her for $10, though she has since reclaimed it. “The fact that it was in a museum was such a great thing for my self-esteem at the time. And I still see aspects of that particular piece in my current work,” she said.

While working on a degree in art history and criticism at UC San Diego, Freeman took her second and final formal art class, producing several pieces that were also informative to her work. A piece titled I’ve Swallowed Seeds about swallowing watermelon seeds and having plants sprout from all her orifices and a sculptural work involving a ladder were both symbolic of her life and all the color that would come of it, she said. Freeman then attended San Jose State University, completing a master’s degree in communicative disorders and sciences in 2000. Afterward, she moved back to her hometown of San Diego to be near the beach and the pocket neighborhoods San Diego is known for. Then, as kismet would have it, she reconnected with a boy she knew in elementary school from the second to sixth grade.

“Pretty quickly we decided we liked each other and began a long-distance relationship for a few months before I moved to Berkeley to see if he really was the one,” Freeman said. Turns out, he was, but Berkeley wasn’t the perfect fit for her.

“I was thrilled to convince my now husband to move to Alameda in 2002. I’ve never been happier with a city I’ve lived in than I am with Alameda,” she added.

Freeman rather suddenly decided to become a “true” artist around 2005, acquiring huge amounts of acrylic paint, working on about eight to 10 paintings at once. It was a sudden decision that was to shape her life powerfully and definitively. “I cannot imagine ever stepping away from my artist persona,” Freeman said.

About three years ago, she realized she was consistently using the paintbrush as if she were holding a pen and began experimenting with using pen and ink as her primary medium. Nowadays, her favorite materials are canvas boards, watercolors, acrylic paints, and Copic marker pens. She usually works on several pieces at once to curb boredom, though other times, she can become fixated on an image so intensely that she dedicates her time only to that one piece until it is complete.

“I try to approach my art in a loose, loving way, forgoing deadlines most of the time, allowing myself to float in and out of artistic mindsets and life’s other tasks. I always find the most stress comes from completing a commission or suggestion by another person or artist. I work best when the art is all from my own heart,” Freeman said.

Freeman loves looking at art in museums or gallery showings and feels amazement at the diversity and spectrum of expression and art’s endless ability to enthrall different audiences. “I’m a highly visual person who wants to see, enhance, and process it all in my own ways,” Freeman said. She is inspired by many artists, citing some favorites as European modern artists Gustav Klimt, René Magritte, Joan Miró, and Marc Chagall, though her work does not attempt to emulate them. Mostly, Freeman is inspired by sincere challenge, as she has experienced in her own life with life-threatening health issues. She views difficulty as an opportunity to become stronger.

“The goodness in the world inspires me far more than the evil in the world vexes me. If there is good, I will find it. And there usually is,” she said. Her children, Jaena, 12, and Noah, 11, also inspire everything she does.

At home in Alameda, she works out of a Victorian dining room that she said her family has lovingly allowed her to claim as her art studio. Requiring only a small drafting table and access to her technicolor paints and wide assortment of pens, Freeman can be found taking up a yoga position on the old fir floors of her home to make her art. On some days, she starts on her computer, brainstorming images or color before she begins to sketch or apply paint or pen to paper or canvas.

“There is usually what I like to think of as spiritual music in my ears, a clear headspace and an idea,” she said.

Big projects emerge at times. About a year ago, Freeman decided to repurpose some of her art into hearts and distribute them around Alameda with inspirational messages written on the back of the hearts. She continued with “The Heart Project” for months until she had hung 6,500 hearts in and around Alameda and, eventually, internationally.

“I attempted to be anonymous but people recognized the hearts and started connecting with me about them. Many people told me that the finding of the hearts was magical for them, changed the trajectory of their day, and a few people confessed the hearts brought them back from very dark places. Some people collected the hearts. This project was important because it embodied the love, acceptance, joy, and agent of world change that my art has shown over time.”

Another project that took on a life of its own occurred when one of her daughter’s classmates in kindergarten was gunned down, losing his life. In response to the tragedy, Freeman decided to begin a project to infuse peace, love, joy, and growth into the surrounding community and thus, the “Oakland Peace Portrait Project” was underway. Freeman began taking photographic portraits depicting people holding up a peace sign, having conversations with everyone she photographed, culminating in over 900 portraits. “The immeasurable amount of good in the world always needs to be highlighted,” she said. 

What Freeman would like people to know about her and her art is that she has a strong, innate drive to make her part of the world a better place and that she knows this can be done with love.

“I don’t have to be the best artist. I don’t have to be the best photographer. The love behind all of my work will classify it in exactly the place it needs to fall. It will touch who it needs to touch. It will heal who it needs to heal. I often look at something I create and wonder why, how, has this actually happened. And usually, someone will step up and let me know, either telling me that it changed them or that they need to have it. Art is mystical and magical in that way, serendipitous, the way my marriage was,” she said. 

Apart from being an artist, Freeman is a former speech language pathologist, a dedicated mother of two, a Wednesday barista at The Local to satiate her “people fix,” a singer in The Eleanor Rigbys, a local women’s a capella group that sings Beatles cover tunes, and she is a freestyle dancer.

Regarding her art, Freeman purposely tries not to analyze it. She believes a lot of it happens because she taps into a spiritual source and the work is simply meant to be. In the midst of it all, she aims to fight racial prejudice, share good news, perpetuate whimsy, and spread beauty on a regular basis. Freeman has had over 25 gallery shows since 2007. Her work was most recently featured in a bathroom in Alameda on Park Street, a venue, she said, that is as good as any. For more info, visit her at Facebook.com/deirdreart.