Michael “Freestylee” Thompson (1958-2016)
Activist and artist Michael Thompson, also known as Freestylee, Artist without borders, died at his home, August 15, 2016 of a heart attack, according to the coroner’s result. He was 58.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica lived for more than 25 years in the small city of Easton in Pennsylvania, United States. He studied graphic design in the early 1980s, at the Jamaica School of Art, now called the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. Of the many artists that influenced Freestylee during the formative years, few did more than the Rastafarian artist Ras Daniel Hartman. Hartman’s prolific output of drawings in the 1970s represented for Freestylee a rich source of Rastafari references and traditions that were growing deep influences on the Jamaican popular culture. Freestylee’s influences were not, however, exclusively Jamaican, or the Rastafari movement. Like other young progressive artists in Jamaica at the time the anti-apartheid struggles and liberation movements in Southern Africa were very inspiring, so were the struggles in Latin America. The subjects were evident in his earlier personal designs, drawings and paintings (1970s – 80s). During that period, he won two successive poster competitions in Jamaica, which gave him the opportunity to participate with the Jamaican delegation in the 11th World Festival of Youth and Students in Havana, Cuba in 1978, and again in Moscow in 1985.
Michael was committed to the mission of helping to transform Kingston into a global port of call. The catalyst and centerpiece of his vision is reggae. Michael’s ultimate goal was the erection of a monumental Reggae Hall of Fame Museum in Kingston, designed by a visionary architect of the caliber of Frank Gehry.
This grand structure must evoke the voice, vision and vocabulary of reggae and related musical genres. Michael’s vision pays full respect to the roots and lineage of reggae’s past. His mantra is a combination of heritage and tradition, of aspiration and intuition. Michael believed in advocating and celebrating a music that is cosmic, optimistic, righteous, hip, healing – a wholesome alembic for these tricky millennial times.
Michael designed more than 500 posters through the last 7 years of his life.
His son, Dane Thompson, also an artist, and his art representative Maria Papaefstathiou will continue to run this store.
Words of his family and friends :
“Michael was the pinnacle of marvelous. He had a heart so big that he could share it with the world. For the many years we were married, he was always calm, never raised his voice, never argued. He used to say he’s from another planet and, at times, I was convinced. He touched the lives of every person he met. He was able to give freely and asked for nothing in return. “No” was not a word he used very often. I have lost the father of our son, my best friend, my husband. I will forever cherish his memory. I am blessed to have a part of him still with me. I miss you Michael and I will always love you.”
Your wife, Maria Hudson
“I lost my best friend. Dad, I love you and miss you so much already. I know you are in a better place, but my heart is broken. Thank you so much for being my greatest supporter and influence. I promise I will continue to make you proud and make our dreams come true.”
“There was the spark in eyes
There was the chuckle in his laughter
There was the gently massage of your shoulders if he was behind you.
Most importantly, his generous heart just kept on giving.
Mike, was truly before his time.
Gone too soon but thank God his work still lives on.
We love you Mike and we miss you uncle Mike.
“Michael’s sudden departure from life is an unfortunate loss not only for his friends and family but for the whole art community and the wider society. Michael taught us to give with our hearts and we would see trees blossoming. He taught us to care for each other and look beyond our neighborhood. To love without borders. His actions and artworks are a testimony of his words. Let’s try to continue what he started and pass this legacy to the next generation.
Michael was a wonderful friend and the best business partner I could ever ask for. He taught me many things, but mostly he taught me LIFE. We spent countless hours speaking of reggae, Jamaica, Greece, Mexico, different civilizations, truths and lies of world history and the need to create a world without borders and discrimination. We e-met in late 2011 and our friendship stood strong until the last day. I miss you already Michael and I will never forget you. “
Maria Papaefstathiou, Freestylee’s Art Representative and Co-Founder of the International Reggae Poster Contest.
“What a thing, eeh! Mi heart heavy. Here’s my little comment for the newspaper. I’m trying to write my column this week in tribute to Michael. I just keep seeing his face. I can’t believe he’s gone. We know death is our fate. But when it comes like this without warning, it really hurts. We just have to live each day to the best of our ability.
Prof. Carolyn Cooper
“Michael touched so many lives through his wonderful personality and beautiful art, including myself. He was such an extraordinary talent, humble, kind and always giving more and more. His spirit will live on through his work, and his love of and contribution to Jamaican culture leaves a lasting impression.”
The Chin Family
“Michael Thompson, an exceptional artist, original thinker, and powerful spirit has flown away. But his light will continue to blaze among the brightest. He was an art activist, spiritual warrior, and a humble and loving husband to his wife. Dear Micheal, I still see you daily and I hear everything you have to say. With Respect.”
Michael Thompson – Cultural activism and leadership without borders
Michael used the language of the image to hit the awareness of people with his art, in Mexico he managed to make many young people knew through his designs of important figures in the history of the African black roots in our country as Gaspar Yanga or revolutionaries Emiliano Zapata and Francisco Villa who could, with figures as Marcus Garvey, Haile Selassie and Mortimer Plano, sprucing places like the Mexico City subway, the Mayan Museum of Chetumal and the FES Acatlán, where he could share with a group of students the importance of protecting water globally. Michael knew how to mix his talent with technology to build cultural activism through the Internet and social networks. It is a faithful testimony of his contribution the International Reggae Poster Contest, the large digital platform created with Mary Papaefstathiou, where we can find the greatest army of Reggae-lover designers around the world.
Contributing to the growth of others is a gift that just few humans can develop and that was one of the main skills of Michael Thompson. He managed a free style to move around the world as a global citizen while being naturally an ambassador of Reggae. Only a person with magic, creativity and knowledge about their country could question one of the most prolific cultural industries planet, WHY NOT? Michael’s mind could not conceive his beloved Jamaica without a museum that could boost the economy of the island attracting tourism to Kingston and for that the envisioned a construction of such caliber that could be designed by famed Canadian architect Frank Gehry, a space to house and honor the lives of people who have contributed to the massification of Reggae Music and all the Rastafari culture around the world, giving life through colorful tributes in designs that have been part of the promotional image or stage sets at parties and festivals worldwide. This is one of the reasons why today this project is an idea whose time has come to be fulfilled and thus provide the great tribute that deserves our brother and friend Michael Thompson.
The word, power and sound of the ancient Taino will continue to live forever from the roots of his beloved Xaymaca thanks to the extraordinary art of Michael Thompson.
We miss you, friend.
Michael, a friend, a teacher, an accomplice…
Michael was a man with a big heart, who used to have great colorful dreams and passionate ideals, who lived “One love” philosophy every day. He expressed himself through powerful artistic graphics. He loved beauty and was able to find it everywhere and in every person. He use to link talent people globally and teach how to share between each other as he was doing always.
He fell in love with hats and every beautiful object or action who inspired him, he combat every injustice passionately and in a blunt way from his art. Like a juggler, he was able to develop different creative projects at the same time and had enough time to encourage and support others with theirs.
I cannot talk about Michael only as the wonderful graphic artist he was. That is evident. Anyone can appreciate his reggae or awareness art posters and get his own opinion. There were no
boundaries for him, he was always bold enough to think “Why not?” and create rapturous images and challenging projects. He well knew how fast and far can travel the message of a powerful image. As an experienced alchemist, he always got the right proportions of color, space and words to build a potent visual message. He mastered his art and was happy to share his knowledge and ideas with everybody.
To me, Michael was my friend, who was in love of Mexico, who was marvelous by the purple flower of Jacarandas trees, discovered Papaya to relieve his gastritis, planned to settled near Chetumal after retirement, enjoyed to buy hats and shoes, drink Jamaica flower beverages, be friendly to everyone, tried to learn some Spanish at each opportunity as he learnt and talked about cultures, people and places of different corners of the world, encouraged any young talent and bet on them using his art, words and contacts, a loving husband and father, a great friend… He was a wonderful human being, always full of curiosity, generosity, compassion, creativity and life.
Michael Thompson was my friend, my teacher, my accomplice of art adventures, and the captain of a large crew of dreamers and idealists all over the world, involved in a journey he called “Reggae Hall of Fame”, a dream place until now that keep the spirit of all projects he commanded.
Reggae lost one of its global cultural ambassadors and we lost a friend.
I miss Michael. We miss him. Reggae miss you, Michael.