Alumni Stories: “Where Are They Now?”
Edition 18 — Frenell Jean-Georges
Greatness Around Us
When he was 14-years old, Frenell Jean-Georges tagged along with one of his friends to his after-school job at Artists For Humanity. He instantly wanted to be a part of the organization.
Jean-Georges then spent the next six years working for AFH. Twenty years later, he is still close to the people and the ideas he encountered at the nonprofit.
Leading up to AFH, Jean-Georges’s art education had been sparse. In high school, he had taken a television production class that focused on the technical, rather than artistic, elements of TV. Jean-Georges was more interested in the artistic side; he drew in his free time and was curious about art.
This curiosity was what motivated him to work at AFH. He remembered, “The idea of expressing myself and getting paid for it was appealing to me at a young age.” He was also craving structure. “At that time in my life, I was trying to grab something,” he said.
He quickly began working in the Painting Studio after school. At first, he mostly painted pictures of bodies of water. But under the mentorship of Painting Studio Director Rob Gibbs, he quickly learned color theory and basic painting techniques.
As Jean-Georges developed his artistic identity, he moved into creating impressionist, and later, surrealist paintings. He also drew portraits; he remembers one of rapper Ghostface Killah particularly vividly.
His job also taught him about art entrepreneurship. Jean-Georges still remembers the first painting he ever sold, which was inspired by his Haitian heritage. At an AFH art show, a guest approached him and asked him about the inspiration behind the painting. Jean-Georges explained that he had been influenced by a reference picture, which had reminded him of his identity.
“It was a scene of Haitian people holding these big colorful rice or sugar bags. It was a Caribbean scene,” he explained. The painting was the first he had ever done in an Impressionist style, which he would later come to focus on.
The guest bought the painting, and Jean-Georges was elated.
“I felt really good about selling my own painting. Being a 15-year old male from the inner city, it was empowering,” he said.
He also was excited about earning $400 from the commission.
During his time at AFH, Jean-Georges formed several close relationships, which helped him throughout his adolescence. In particular, Gibbs went above and beyond in his role as a mentor. “Rob [Gibbs] has always been like a big brother to me,” Jean-Georges said.
He also had a tight circle of friends in the studio, whom he remains close to. He said, “Those guys are still my brothers. We all have different directions, we’ve accomplished different things, but to this day, their work inspires me.” Jean-Georges and his friends were also motivated by Gibbs’s career as an artist.
“We got to watch a lot of greatness around us,” he said.
He remembered an event Gibbs organized with his rap crew called “Doing it in the Park.” The event combined rap battles with basketball tournaments, graffiti, and breakdancing competitions. While the event was not held through AFH, Jean-Georges said the organization was the reason behind why he was exposed to these types of art.
“AFH wasn’t just what was happening in the building. There was an extension of it, watching all this entrepreneurship happening around us,” he said.
After graduating high school, Jean-Georges went to Roxbury Community College, where he studied Social Science. In addition, he worked as an Assistant Mentor in the Painting Studio.
He then spent years working in Human Services, for organizations such as Hope for Little Wanderers, Eliot Human Services, and the Cambridge Community Center. His time at AFH informed his work. “I gave back to my community by working with kids and being a creative outlet for them. What I could contribute to them was my artistic skills and my ability to teach them art,” he said.
Jean-Georges also learned to love music while at AFH, by listening to different artists as he painted. In 2015, he released an album, Indoctrination under his stage name Fublac. “It’s rap music with socially-conscious lyrics, inspired by the people I was listening to while at AFH,” he explained.
Recently, Jean-Georges started his own art design business. He said that his time at AFH has helped him with his process, because of the network of artists he can tap into. The business is still in its beginning stages, but Jean-Georges is hopeful for what it will bring. “I want to make goods and services that will contribute something new to the community and will help people,” he said.
Written by Lena Novins-Montague.