Freestylee Roots at University of the West Indies (UWI) Museum

In 2013, Michael Thompson’s work came to the UWI Museum for the first time.
In December 2017 and January 2018 we’re mounting Freestylee Roots – a tribute to this talented Jamaican poster artist with a global perspective.

The exhibition runs from December 5-15, returning after a break to continue from January 8-26. It features a collection of posters, many of them portraits of a range of greats in the music industry as well as other iconic reggae-related images, and a sampling of posters that reflect on global causes. Speaking at a University of the West Indies Department of Literatures in English Reggae Talks session in April 2013, MT noted: “Design is what we do, and it’s a powerful tool that I use for a social cause.” At that time, the UWI Museum was hosting a small exhibition of reggae posters that MT had agreed to have included in a book titled Global Reggae, edited by Prof Carolyn Cooper. While that project was in process, his creative partner, graphic artist Maria Papaefstathiou had visited the museum and cheerfully and with certainty volunteered Michael’s help in creating a lead poster for an exhibition we were mounting, titled A Great Day For All. Subsequently he created two other posters of UWI icons, for use by the Museum. Michael Thompson died in 2016, but his work is still visible under his Freestylee banner and the International Reggae Poster competition which he and Maria started in 2012 and which in 2017 was hosted at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay.

We’ve published earlier UWI Museum blog posts on Freestylee’s work and ethos including these:

https://uwimuseum.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/design-is-a-powerful-tool-poster-artist-speaks/

https://uwimuseum.wordpress.com/2013/03/22/reggae-posters-visualise-musics-history/

 

 

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The “FREESTYLEE ROOTS” exhibition in Spanish Court Hotel, Kingston, Jamaica

For the second time in four years, the work of Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson is bring exhibited in Jamaica. In 2013, soon after the publication of Global Reggae, for which Michael designed the cover, an exhibition of his posters was mounted at The University of the West Indies Museum. Maria Papaefstathiou, who designed the book, brilliantly deployed black and white images of Michael’s reggae posters to frame each of the sixteen chapters. The full-colour posters were used for the exhibition curated by Dr. Suzanne Francis Brown, director of the Museum.
The current exhibition, FREESTYLEE ROOTS, opened in Kingston on November 18 at Spanish Court Hotel. The exhibition was curated by Maria Papaefstathiou, co-founder with Michael of the International Reggae Poster Contest. She collaborated with Michael’s widow, Maria Hudson, and his son, Dane Thompson to produce an arresting exhibition. FREESTYLEE ROOTS showcases 50 iconic posters that penetrate beneath the surface, reaching to the foundations of Jamaican culture.
Dr. Carolyn Cooper, a board member of the International Reggae Poster Contest, emceed the launch. Chistopher Isaa, CEO of the hotel, welcomed guests and spoke warmly about Michael. Then Dane tearfully paid tribute to his father. Maria Papaefstathiou, guest speaker, deeply moved the audience as she presented the life and work of Michael. Patricia Chin, co-founder of VP Records; Andrea Davis, founder of International Reggae Day July 1 and Dr. Joshua Chamberlain, a consultant at the Alpha Boys’ School, all spoke passionately about Michael’s generosity. And Geoff Lewis of Paperboy Printers who printed the posters so beautifully talked about the conversations in the printery about Michael’s engaging work. He said it was such a relief from the tedium of printing business cards to enjoy Michael’s artistry.
Dr. Mike Hajimichael, a lecturer in media and cultural studies at the University of Nicosia in Cyprus, performed the song ‘FreeStylee Riddim’, dedicated to Michael. Mike wrote the lyrics and the music was composed by Kostas ‘Lemourios’ Margaritakis, a lawyer and reggae music composer from Greece. Maria Papaefstathiou designed the beautiful cover for the single which was released by VP Records and given away to the audience. The exhibition moves to the University of the West Indies Museum for a two-week run from December 5-15.

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“Freestylee Roots” exhibition, Spanish Court Hotel, Kingston, Jamaica

The “FREESTYLEE ROOTS” exhibition opens at the Valencia C Room (16 Worthington Avenue) of Spanish Court Hotel, Kingston, Jamaica on November 18, 2017 at 6pm and closes on November 26, 2017. The exhibition is organized by Maria Papaefstathiou, co-founder with Michael ‘Freestyee’ Thompson of the International Reggae Poster Contest – in collaboration with Michael’s widow, Maria Hudson; and his son, Dane Thompson.

Conceived as “ROOTS”, this vibrant collection of posters penetrates beneath the surface, reaching to the foundations of Jamaican culture. The original name of the island, Xaymaca, means land of wood and water in the Arawakan language. The fertility of the Jamaican landscape is matched by the richness of the island’s resilient culture.

At the root of modern Jamaica is a history of sustained resistance against forces of oppression. The Taino people fought valiantly against the rapacious European invaders. Later, Africans who were brought against their will to Xaymaca escaped enslavement, establishing Maroon communities in the mountainous interior. In the 20th century, the Rastafari movement emerged as a new wave of maroonage, with a vision of repatriation to Africa. And reggae music exploded as the sound track of the island’s cultural revolution.

 

This exhibition of Michael Thompson’s powerful posters focuses on two distinct themes. First, there is the celebration of the heroism of the Jamaican people: Queen Nanny of the Maroons, freedom fighter Paul Bogle and Marcus Garvey, Pan-Africanist champion of black people across the world. Jamaican culture in all its dynamism is honoured. The second theme of the exhibition highlights some of the festering global problems that need urgent attention. For example, Thompson’s evocative posters constitute creative resistance to the tragedy of war and forced migration.

In essence, “ROOTS” presents a substantive selection of Michael Thompson’s politically engaged posters. The exhibition eloquently articulates the artist’s mission to change how we look at the past and the present and how we conceive the future. Affirming the optimism of Bob Marley’s “One Love” message, Thompson’s poster art reaches beyond borders to embrace diverse cultures, establishing communities of empathy.

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“FREESTYLEE ROOTS” exhibition in Cyprus

The “FREESTYLEE ROOTS” exhibition opened at the Gallery Restaurant of the University of Nicosia, Cyprus, on March 11, 2017 (it will be up until Monday 20th March). The exhibition was organized as part of the 3rd Graphic Stories Cyprus. “FREESTYLEE ROOTS” showcased 50 iconic posters and photos of the life journey, family and friends of the Jamaican artist Michael Thompson aka FREESTYLEE artist without borders. The exhibition was attended by students, reggae fans and designers. The exhibition was wholeheartedly supported by the renowned Cyprian reggae artist and professor, Haji Mike.
The exhibition was opened by the organizer of the Graphic Stories Cyprus, Aggeliki Athanasiadi, and professor Haji Mike who shared memories of their first meeting with Michael two years ago. Michael’s business partner, Maria Papaefstathiou, deeply moved, presented the life and work of Michael “Freestylee” Thompson. Unfortunately, Michael’s wife, Maria, and son, Dane, who live in the United States could not attend the exhibition.

This compelling exhibition features 50 graphic posters conceived as “ROOTS” by Michael Thompson. This vibrant collection of posters penetrates beneath the surface, reaching to the foundations of Jamaican culture. The selection was made by the artist himself a few months before his passing and was showcased on March 2016 in Mexico City. Maria Papaefstathiou wished to continue his legacy by having the same exhibition travel to other places in the world. The posters have a strong impact and are an inspiration for students, designers, reggae artists and the rest of the world. “Michael used to say, ‘Keep the flame burning.’ And this is my mission now, to keep his flame burning so more people get to see the art”, Maria said.
Dr. Carolyn Cooper describes the exhibition in this way: “This striking collection of posters focuses on two distinct themes. First, there is the celebration of the heroism of the Jamaican people: Queen Nanny of the Maroons, freedom fighter Paul Bogle and Marcus Garvey, Pan-Africanist champion of black people across the world. Jamaican culture in all its dynamism is honoured. The second theme of the exhibition highlights some of the festering global problems that need urgent attention. For example, Thompson’s evocative posters constitute creative resistance to the tragedy of war and forced migration.”
Cooper added that, “In essence, ‘ROOTS’ presents a substantive selection of Michael Thompson’s politically engaged posters. The exhibition eloquently articulates the artist’s mission to change how we look at the past and the present and how we conceive the future. Affirming the optimism of Bob Marley’s ‘One Love’ message, Thompson’s poster art reaches beyond borders to embrace diverse cultures, establishing communities of empathy.”

We, Maria, Dane and Maria, thank all involved in this exhibition, starting with Aggeliki Athanasiadi and Miltos Karras of Graphic Stories Cyprus, for hosting “FREESTYLEE ROOTS.” Without them, this exhibition would not have become a reality in Cyprus. We thank Haji Mike for his amazing support in hosting the exhibition at the University of Nicosia; for bringing his sound system and reggae vibes to the opening; but mostly, for believing in Michael’s dream and his Freestylee artwork. We also thank DJ Savvas Thomas for spinning great reggae tunes. We share our love and appreciation for our friends who helped to mount the exhibition – the amazing graphic designer Lila Skavani; lawyer and reggae artist himself Kostas Margaritakis; graphic designer Xenia Nikolaou; and graphic designer Michael Antonopoulos. We specially thank students Kine Henriksen & Andreas Pastides for inviting Maria Papaefstathiou to be interviewed on the MA Course on Citizen’s Journalism at The University of Nicosia about Michael’s art. I, Maria Papaefstathiou, personally thank visual designer Charis Tsevis for his enormous support and courage in all the preparations for this exciting exhibition. We also thank all of the designers who gave talks about their work at the 3rd Graphic Stories Cyprus event and who came to view the “FREESTYLEE ROOTS” exhibition – Rob Snow, Spiros Drakatos and Tonia Augoustaki from SpirTo adv, Nikos Gazetas and Michael Antonopoulos.

“FREESTYLEE ROOTS” was supported and sponsored by the Consulate of Jamaica in Cyprus and Honorary Consul Mr Pantelis Michael Leptos, who, unfortunately, could not attend the opening because of urgent personal obligations. The exhibition was also supported by Royiatiko Hotel, Bank of Cyprus, FeedMe Kalopesas, makad, Politis Newspaper, Parathiro and RIK radio station.

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“FREESTYLEE ROOTS” in Cyprus

The “FREESTYLEE ROOTS” exhibition will open at 20:30 on the 11th of March, 2017 at the campus of the University of Nicosia in Cyprus. The exhibition is organized in memory of Michael Thompson, his life and work. The Jamaican artist Michael Thompson aka FREESTYLEE artist without borders passed away on the 15th of August 2016. This compelling exhibition features 50 graphic posters designed by Michael Thompson. The exhibition is being organized by Dane S. Thompson, Michael’s son and Maria Papaefstathiou, Michael’s partner, as part of the Graphic Stories Cyprus 2017 event.

The exhibition will run until 20 March, 2017.

We wish to thank Aggeliki MK Athanasiadi and Miltos Karras, founders of the Graphic Stories Cyprus for inviting and curating the Freestylee exhibition.
We also thank Haji Mike for his enormous support and love to Michael Thompson and his work. With his contribution Freestylee will be hosted by the University of Nicosia.

Conceived as “ROOTS”, this vibrant collection of posters penetrates beneath the surface, reaching to the foundations of Jamaican culture. The original name of the island, Xaymaca, means land of wood and water in the Arawakan language. The fertility of the Jamaican landscape is matched by the richness of the island’s resilient culture. At the root of modern Jamaica is a history of sustained resistance against forces of oppression. The Taino people fought valiantly against the rapacious European invaders. Later, Africans who were brought against their will to Xaymaca escaped enslavement, establishing Maroon communities in the mountainous interior. In the 20th century, the Rastafari movement emerged as a new wave of maroon-age, with a vision of repatriation to Africa. And reggae music exploded as the sound track of the island’s cultural revolution. This exhibition of Michael Thompson’s powerful posters focuses on two distinct themes. First, there is the celebration of the heroism of the Jamaican people: Queen Nanny of the Maroons, freedom fighter Paul Bogle and Marcus Garvey, Pan-Africanist champion of black people across the world. Jamaican culture in all its dynamism is honored. The second theme of the exhibition highlights some of the festering global problems that need urgent attention. For example, Thompson’s evocative posters constitute creative resistance to the tragedy of war and forced migration. In essence, “ROOTS” presents a substantive selection of Michael Thompson’s politically engaged posters. The exhibition eloquently articulates the artist’s mission to change how we look at the past and the present and how we conceive the future. Affirming the optimism of Bob Marley’s “One Love” message, Thompson’s poster art reaches beyond borders to embrace diverse cultures, establishing communities of empathy.

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Memorial Day: Celebrating the life of Michael “Freestylee” Thompson

Michael Thompson was a great Jamaican artist and activist who loved his country so much that he dedicated his talent to speaking through his posters about Jamaica – its rich culture, its beautiful landscapes, the struggles of its people and, of course, its unique reggae music. Michael passed away on August 15th from a heart attack due to an enlarged heart.

A public memorial service was held for Michael on September 26, 2016 at the Consulate General of Jamaica in New York City. Family, friends, colleagues, fans and all those he kept inspiring throughout his life came to pay their respects and to share their memories.

The memorial began a few minutes after 5:00 p.m. The room was filled with selected posters of Michael’s artworks and photographs showcasing his life and achievements. A beautiful urn with Michael’s remains had pride of place. The service began with a prayer by Professor Carolyn Cooper followed by tributes from Michael’s son, Dane, Patricia Chin of VP Records, Carolyn Cooper, family members, friends and colleagues.

Michael’s wife, Maria, dedicated the song “Oh” by Dave Matthews to him:
“I hear you still talk to me
As if you’re sitting in that dusty chair
Makes the hours so much easier to bear
I know despite the years alone
Still hear you singing your sweet song
And if it’s all the same to you

I love you oh so well
Like a kid loves candy and fresh snow
I love you oh so well
Enough to fill up heaven overflow and fill hell
Love you oh so well

When it’s cold and darkness falls
As if you’re in the next room so alive
Could swear I hear you singing to me
I love you oh so well”

Michael’s niece, Olivia Morgan, did a beautiful rendition of “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday” by Boyz II Men. The memorial was a wonderful celebration filled with heart-breaking moments, laughter, joy and happiness, as was Michael’s life.

Here’s an excerpt from Dane’s tribute:  “There is so much that I admire about my father. He had an uncanny ability to make people see their own greatness when they can’t see it themselves. He taught me that when life hits you hard, this is when you must be calm. To think clearly and understand what needs to be done.

“My dad had a stillness about him that was calm and deliberate. When he spoke, he spoke with passion; he made you feel the impact of his ideas. Whether you saw his vision or not, you understand that he would pursue his goal with extreme focus. He taught me to respect myself, so in turn I could understand and respect others. He taught me that failure is not a loss, but a detailed blue print to a victory.”

And from Patricia Chin’s:  “Michael loved Jamaican culture as much as I do. Both of us were aware that our tiny island was full of resources and, most of all, talent! He also reminded me that Jamaica has so much history that was so under-appreciated. Michael devoted himself to being a part of sharing Jamaican history throughout the world.”

And from Carolyn Cooper’s:  “What I admired most about Michael was his quiet eloquence.  He wore his exceptional talent with simple grace. He was not full of himself. He was a modest man who produced brilliant work with apparent ease. Michael chose to take on a whole range of difficult global issues in his compelling graphic designs.

“One of Michael’s grand passions was to see the establishment of a world-class museum for Jamaican popular music in downtown Kingston. This is a primary mission of the International Reggae Poster Contest. Michael’s vision was broader than Broadway. He wanted an iconic building to house the museum. It should embody the inventiveness of Jamaica’s musical legends. His preferred architect was Frank Gehry.”

The memorial service was organized in collaboration with Patricia Chin and VP Records. Maria Papaefstathiou, Michael’s business partner and co-founder of the International Reggae Poster Contest, curated the exhibition which remained open to the public until Tuesday, October 4, 2016.

Special thanks to Acting Consul General Derron McCreath and his staff who graciously welcomed us; Rev. Calvin McIntyre who gave the benediction; Mr. Christopher Issa and his wife Kimberley of the Spanish Court Hotels in Jamaica; Mrs. Patricia Chin and VP Records; Monica Vega and Bnaior Memo Mujica from Mexico who presented a special book to Michael’s family outlining the proposal for an exhibition in the Maya Cancun Museum, titled “Xaymaca, The Global Anthropological Roots of Reggae”; photographer Ajamu Myrie for his tremendous help in setting up the exhibition and for documenting the memorial; Barbara Ann Levy for her help and important remarks; everyone who came; and all those who wished to there but couldn’t come.

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Bless You Michael

written by Anicee Gaddis

GOODNESS & MERCY

I first met Michael Thompson about 4 years ago during the launch of Big Magazine’s Jamaica issue which I was the Editorial Director for.  His passion for promoting, uplifting, and sharing the undeniable depth and unrivaled beauty of Jamaica and its culture was something we both had very much in common.  As our talks continued, we touched on everything from the shifting tides of reggae and dancehall, to the rebuilding of Tivoli Gardens, to the simmer and stride of Kingston that we both agreed is a gold mine of music and culture and the jewel in Jamaica’s crown.  Michael’s recent and very unexpected passing has left us with a hole in our lives but it has also left us with even more determination and dedication to pursue and realize his extraordinary vision.

Michael, a.k.a. Freestylee, was an undisputedly gifted artist, and as you got to know him, you began to realize that he was committed to a higher cause, namely to turning his home city of Kingston into a global cultural beacon.  The catalyst and centerpiece of this movement was reggae.  And the manifestation of his calling was a Reggae Hall of Fame Museum.

Michael co-founded the International Reggae Poster competition in 2012, with partner Maria Papaefstathiou, Freestylee’s Art representative, who is an acclaimed graphic designer in her own right and a native of Athens, Greece.  They began it as a platform to raise awareness and momentum around the Museum initiative, and during that inaugural year, Michael and Maria received 1,142 poster entries from 80 countries around the world.

As Maria described, “”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. ”

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Adirondack Mountains of New York state at Keene Arts — photo by Victor Forbes

 

What you need to understand about Michael’s mission is that there were deep layers behind it. It was a vision that involved the originators and the instigators, the heavyweights and the future pioneers.  His crew of bonafides such as Patricia Chin, the reigning Queen of VP Records, and the eminent “Rockers” cameraman and director Ted Bafaloukos, have been on the frontlines of reggae since the ’60s and ’70s, while Michael has been creating his poster designs for over 4 decades.  As well, Michael had a longstanding friendship with Professor Carolyn Cooper, accomplished author, columnist, and academian.  Professor Copper said, “What a thing, eeh!  Mi heart heavy.  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.”  When you link that level of distinction and legacy with the Alpha Boys School, an institution founded as early as 1880 that has produced some of the most notable legends in the history of reggae, and that Michael designed the logo for and worked closely with, that is in many ways a true cradle of reggae, you begin to understand the power of Michael’s vision.

And so if we look from the cradle to the cameraman to the unparalleled legacy and living history of Miss Pat and VP Records, the completion of this trinity is Michael and his work, the call to arms.  As Miss Pat said, “”Michael touched so many lives, including my own, through his wonderful personality and beautiful art.  He inspired me to see my purpose more clearly motivated me in so many ways.  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.”

Michael was a self-described graphic designer and creative activist who attended the School of Jamaican Art, now called the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.  He worked his way through the ranks as a designer before landing a job at Jamaica’s Daily News. Michael began creating posters in the late ’70s and has since developed a visual language that goes beyond graphic design, that transcends and transforms popular culture to elicit a broader commentary on the universal human condition. Michael’s activist posters for the Arab Spring, Haiti Relief, Tivoli Insurgence, and Clean Water Crisis in Africa are a clear call to mobilization.  When he describes himself as an artist without borders, it rings true. And his musically inspired posters go straight for the gold, featuring a vault of work depicting much of Jamaica’s royalty, as well as his countries most illustrious forefathers, including Marcus Garvey, Paul Bogle, and Samuel Sharpe.

Michael Thompson with Donnette Cooper, Ifeona Fulani and Carolyn Cooper.

Michael Thompson with Donnette Cooper, Ifeona Fulani and Carolyn Cooper.

 

Without a past there is no present, and without a present there is no future.  Michael’s vision resonates with the pulse of the future while paying full respect to the roots and lineage of reggae’s past. His mantra is a combination of heritage and tradition, of aspiration and intuition.

His mission was to use reggae as a catalyst to change the face of Kingston.  In his lifetime, he would have liked to see a Frank Gehry caliber museum erected that celebrates the voice, vision, and vocabulary of reggae and related musical genres (like ska, dub, rock steady, roots reggae, and dancehall.)  In other words, his aim was to create a mecca for reggae lovers and cognoscenti(e) that would offer an experience-rich journey into one of Jamaica’s finest movements.  Despite the fact that Michael is no longer with us, it would be a shame not to see this mission brought to fruition.

The core and motivation of everything Michael and Maria were working toward is reggae music, the global patois and healing of the people, the cornerstone of a Jamaican identity that speaks to faith, optimism, and evolution – and the turnkey for Jamaican culture at large.

There is something Ted Bafaloukos said about first meeting Michael.“ The first work by Michael Thompson I ever laid eyes on was my face on a poster, the way I looked when I was half the age I am now.  As it turned out, I got to meet the artist himself a few weeks later. He came to see me, bearing gifts; two splendid prints, one of my portrait and the other, a poster for the Alpha School in Kingston, about which I’d heard much from Horsemouth, another illustrious alumnus of that miraculous institution. It is a simple composition, in black, silhouetted against a crimson background. A young boy, his trombone raised, pointing almost straight up, his head all the way back, is about to blow the first note. But what reveals Michael Thompson’s keen artistic insight is the empty chair behind the boy. The lot of the student, to sit in that chair and learn. The chair now left behind. The boy might not have wings, but he is about to fly, his trombone pulling him up into the heavens.”

Michael Thompson with Anicee Gaddis and friends at a Reggae conference in Cuba.

Michael Thompson with Anicee Gaddis and friends at a Reggae conference in Cuba.

 

“It is like that with all of Michael Thompson’s work. An emotional reward awaits you every time you look at one of them.   The incomparable portraits of national heroes and reggae’s great legends, not only the stars but the foundation builders; The Great Sebastian, Prince Buster, Sir Coxsone, King Tubby with his crown… you are not looking a skillful adaptation of a photographic image, you are looking at the face of a life,” described Ted. “Or a scrawny kid dallying on his bike, dreadlocks inside his bulky tam, living from moment to moment like a leaf in the wind.”

Michael died on the morning of August 15th at his home in Pennsylvania of a heart attack, or as Miss Pat put it, “of an enlarged heart filled with endless amounts of love.”  He is survived by his wife Maria and his son Dane.  In the words of his wife, “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 life 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, and 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.”

In the words of his son, “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.“

And Maria’s sister remembered, “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 and we miss you uncle Mike.”

And so we offer a massive salute to Michael as an artist, a visionary, a friend, a husband and a cool ruler who has already left his footprint on the globe.  Now it’s time to help Michael increase Jamaica’s imprint on the world stage. Michael will always be among us walking in the light.  Or as Dennis Brown put it: “My head is anointed and my cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy Shall follow I, all the days of my life.”

 

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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.”

Dane Thompson

“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.

“The Morgans”

“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.
Stay strong!”

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.”

Dearly missed
The Chin Family
VP Records

“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.”

Anicee Gaddis

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.

Memo Mujica

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.

Mónica Vega

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Freestylee Social Design Workshop in Mexico

A workshop titled “Creative Activism, Lack of Clean Water and Sanitation Awareness” –  Michael Thompson aka Freestylee,  was invited to conduct a Hands-on studio session workshop with students of Facultad de Estudios Superiores Acatlán (FES Acatlan UNAM), in Mexico City, Mexico. The participating students will continue working on and finalizing their poster designs over the next two months, after which we will share them with the public through social media.

The workshop and exhibition were part of week long series of activities in the Mexican capital in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Jamaica/Mexico diplomatic relations organized by the Embassy of Jamaica in Mexico, Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores and FES Acatlan UNAM. The workshop was comprised of 80 graphic design and communication students and their professors, the awareness workshop seeks to engage students in creative activism and social design, to develop creative ideas through inspiring and thought-provoking creative concepts about the growing global crisis. The lively and engaged workshop followed a similar initiative that took place in January at the Phillips Exeter Academy in the United States.

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