“That’s one of them there,” Anthony Freeman said, last Thursday on John’s Lane West in the Liberties, around the corner from the National College of Art and Design (NCAD).
The wall looks stained with watery paint, the stains are the shapes of letters.
Freeman made the paint himself. “I collected moss from around the flats and I threw it in a blender with buttermilk, yoghurt and sugar,” he says.
The acidity of the yoghurt, buttermilk and sugar helps the moss grow, he says.
If all goes to plan, in a couple of months, the moss should fuzz over and the letters grow clearer. “Life is About Growth”, it will read.
Freeman used to love scuttling, he says – hanging off the back of trucks as they roar and clank through the city.
“Like on one of those yokes,” he says, as a green garbage truck draws up nearby. He’s now on Carman’s Hall a few streets deeper into the Liberties.
“When you see the road under your feet, you know that you’re going to fall if you let slip. Your heart’s fuckin’ in your throat the whole time,” he says.
Now, at 37, he says gets that same feeling through art. “When I was younger I used to draw and all but I used to hide it.”
Three years ago, Freeman woke up in the middle of the night, his brain screaming at him. “Like, every bad decision that I ever made was just on repeat in my mind,” Freeman says.
It was four years after he had had cancer, he says. “That was just constantly on my mind.”
In the weeks after, Freeman struggled to sleep, He lost weight. “I was just searching to save myself,” he says.
Freeman went into the Robert Emmet Community Development Project – not far from the Oliver Bond Flats where he grew up and still lives. He signed up as a neighbourhood tour guide.
Coming out of the breakdown, Freeman doubted himself less, he says. Something had changed. He felt more able to pursue his artistic ideas.
He stopped hiding it. Now, he studies fine art in NCAD.
Just across the neighbourhood on Oliver Bond Street, Freeman has painted a man sitting on the wall with the same mossy mixture.
“They look like shadows now but hopefully in the summer they will grow into something else,” he says.
A furry bright green patch of moss on the wall beside the figure catches Freeman’s eye.
He runs his hand over it. “Feel that. How could people not like that?” he says.
Freeman has an obsession with plants that grow out of walls, he says. “If you’re from the inner city then this is the closest that you’re getting to nature.”
“Moss purifies air. It insulates and it’s fucking gorgeous when you look in at it,” he says.
He wants his art to inspire his community to be creative.
To know they can do anything, he says. “What I do want to change is people from the inner city thinking that they will always just end up on a building site.”
Moss is more than just aesthetic or practical for Freeman. “I feel like a dickhead saying it but it is more spiritual for me,” he says.
He scrolls through a dozen moss photos on his phone. Different types, different patterns.
“I’m really interested in how it grows and changes,” he says – and pauses mid-sentence – “I’m just really interested in the idea of change.”
“I suppose it’s because of how I 360 changed my own life,” he says.
Freeman crosses over Oliver Bond Street and walks back down into Oliver Bond.
“People grow, people evolve and this represents them,” he says back in the flats.
Freeman has such enthusiasm, says Austin Campbell, who works with him at the Robert Emmet Community Development Project.
“He is just full energy about everything,” Campbell says.
The project’s tour guides get a rough script. Freeman always does extra research, Campbell says. “Like place names, slang and he was big into the street characters.”
Last week, Campbell convinced Freeman to publish his latest artwork. It’s a 10-minute video, Oliver Bond House in Times of Covid, in which Freeman captures life in the flats during lockdown.
People might read statistics on the lack of green space in the area or the number of people living in the flats, Campbell says.
“But when somebody puts a face to it and shares their own experience then I think that it is really powerful,” he says.
Freeman has his eyes on an enormous blank wall on the side of a car park just inside the Usher Street entrance of the flats.
He wants to make this a living wall, where plants sprout from the concrete.
“I have an idea of a woman pushing a shopping cart in moss and kids helping with the shopping bags,” he says, pointing to different parts of the wall.
“It’s all planned out in my head. I see it every time I come and look at it,” he says.
He gazes at the wall and smiles.
The next step is to ask the car park owners, Freeman says.
It would be good psychologically for those living around here, he says. “It’s better than staring at a big grey wall.”