Wes Freed, the visual artist whose Southern-gothic imagery adorned album covers by Drive-By Truckers, has died at the age of 58. The group’s publicist confirmed the news of Freed’s death to Rolling Stone. Earlier this year, Freed was diagnosed with colorectal cancer and a GoFundMe campaign was launched to help pay for his treatment.
Freed, who attended art school at Virginia Commonwealth University, met Drive-By Truckers in the late 1990s at Capital City Barn Dance, a music festival he co-founded. Himself a musician based in Richmond, Freed first collaborated with the band on their 2001 double LP Southern Rock Opera. He went on to design posters, T-shirts, and other merch for the band and created the cover art for seven more of their albums, including 2004’s The Dirty South, which he has described as his favorite. The “Cooley Bird” image Freed created, which first appeared on 2003’s Decoration Day, would become synonymous with the band and guitarist Mike Cooley. Freed’s artwork features on DBT’s latest LP, Welcome 2 Club XIII, which came out in June.
In addition to his work as a visual artist, Freed played in a number of local bands including the Shiners, Dirt Ball, and Mud Helmet. In 2019, he published The Art of Wes Freed – Paints, Posters, Pin-ups and Possums, a coffee-table book collecting some of his best-known works.
“In the winter, my grandmother cooked on a wood stove and my Grandfather had a rocking chair that sat next to it,” Freed said in a 2011 interview. “There was a set of steps that went up the back way to what used to be my dad’s bedroom. We’d sit on the steps and look out the window while she cooked. In that sort of setting, you can romanticize just about anything. That setting, to me, is part of Paradise; full of the smell of a wood stove and whatever’s cooking; with Grandma downstairs plucking a chicken.”
“I think with my art I’m mostly trying to convince myself that the place really does exist somewhere,” he added. “Maybe I’ll find it, in a metaphysical sort of way…”