Mark Freeland left an indelible mark on Buffalo's underground art and music scene for more than 30 years.
Mastermind of two of the city's most daring rock bands, Pegasus in 1970s and various editions of Electroman ever since, and a collaborator in dozens more, he worked with a theatrical flair and a rebel spontaneity that inspired a generation of younger musicians.
In recent years, he also gained renown as a visual artist. He produced hundreds of vividly colored paintings, sculptures and collages that drew their sophisticated simplicity from graffiti art, pop culture and Native American themes.
A scene-maker at musical venues and gallery events, he cut an outlandish figure in hats and Indian headdresses, kilts and dresses, leather and pajamas.
"He was a walking art installation, a painter whose greatest work was himself," News Pop Music Critic Jeff Miers proclaimed in 2005 upon the release of his first art book, "Everynight Is Different."
For two years, not even cancer could suppress his spirit. He was on stage at the annual reunion of the Fems last December. At his 50th birthday party in May, he was serenaded with tribal drums. He died Thursday under hospice care in his apartment off Elmwood Avenue.
Born in Buffalo, he began showing his talents quickly. His father, retired Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda Deputy School Superintendent Robert Freeland, a visual artist in his own right, recalled how Mark would sneak into his studio and create works of surprising quality before he even started school.
He also made an early mark as an actor, winning the role of young Nick in "A Thousand Clowns" at Studio Arena Theatre at age 12.
By the time he graduated from Kenmore West High School in 1975, he found a way to unite visual arts, acting and his other passion -- music, which he taught himself to sight-read -- in a rock band called Pegasus.
"At Kenmore," he once related, "kids would gather for assembly, sit down in the auditorium and watch Pegasus cover [Jethro Tull's] 'Thick as a Brick' for 45 minutes. The whole album. Absolutely perfect. That was fourth period, to us."
Inspired by the screen projections and outlandish costumes of the British band Genesis, Pegasus and its high-concept fantasy became a mainstay in a run-down Niagara Street show bar, McVan's.
Mr. Freeland's music evolved into punk, electronica and rap in the late 1970s, which all found expression in two groups, Electroman and the famously unrehearsed Fems. He also wrote a rock opera, "Alienation."
The next decade saw him spend a year in New York City, where he played with alternative rockers Our Daughter's Wedding and collaborated with Japanese star Motoharu Sano. He was inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame. He was a mentor for up-and-coming bands such as Green Jello (later Green Jelly) and the Goo Goo Dolls.
"He truly appreciated people for all their talents, large or small," said longtime friend Nina Garfinkel. "If you made a great soup, he dug it as much as if you were a great musician."
In the 1990s, he weathered a series of personal tragedies. He was seriously burned in a fire at home. His younger brother and musical collaborator, James "Jimbo," died in a motorcycle accident in 1992. In 1995, he nearly died in a fall and was hospitalized for weeks.
During that period, he returned to visual arts. He accepted several commissions for graffiti murals. In recent years, his works have been acquired by collectors around the world. Elisabeth Wilmers purchased 20 paintings and donated them to Roswell Park Cancer Institute, where they are on display.
He was a regular member of the lineup in Robby Takac's Music Is Art festivals, and his work was exhibited in Albright-Knox Art Gallery in 2005.
In addition to his father, he is survived by two sisters, Ann Arnold and Ellen Hallahan, and his longtime companion, Carla Levorchick.
Services will held at a time to be announced Tuesday in D. Lawrence Ginnane Funeral Home, 3215 Delaware Ave., Town of Tonawanda.
-- Dale Anderson