Jason Freeny’s exhibit “Molt” takes on the seedy underbelly of pop through unique dissections of iconic toys and cartoons. Though Freeny’s work invokes anatomy, commercialism and the world of Disney, the sculptor’s biggest influences lie much closer to home.
Dabs Magazine: I know a lot of art students who’ve ended up working in set design, but not a lot of set designers-turned-sculptors. Was your goal always to create unique art objects?
Jason Freeny: I always wanted to be an “artist” in the traditional sense, but took the path that would have more employable prospects by studying industrial design. Ironically, my success came when I started doing the art stuff I had put to the side, so yes, my situation was a bit reversed.
DM: How does your training in industrial and prop design shape your process?
JF: I’ve never taken a sculpting course – sculpting comes very naturally to me. All my techniques are industrial design prototyping skills applied to art. This probably explains much of my style and the clean product look of my finished pieces. I truly love the process.
DM: Pop art and its legacies often reconsider practical objects or ones associated with “low art” or mass media as aesthetic ones. Though I’ve heard this kind of work callously deemed cold or impersonal, I’ve found that it tends to come from a deeply personal place. I am thinking of Lichtenstein, who was a cartoonist, or someone like Mike Kelley, who grew up Catholic, and whose work transmits sensations of confused reverence and suspicion to other kinds of images, but clearly draws inspiration from Kelley’s relationship with religious ones. Did you take apart toys as a child? How has your relationship with objects of this kind changed over time?
JF: Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s had me constantly bombarded with commercialism, sugar cereals and Saturday morning cartoons, our world was a very plastic and manufactured place; I’m just a product of that. My father who was a sculpting and painting professor would take me to museums in D.C. I was always drawn to the Lichtensteins, Warhols and Oldenburgs.
DM: What do you think of your kids’ toys?
JF: I used to barter with my kids for some of their toys if they inspired me. After a while, I would just buy two of things I though would work well as a piece.
DM: What do your kids think of your sculptures?
Like myself when I was young, my kids grew up surrounded by my work, so they are quite used to it. They do seem to enjoy it and will make suggestions as to things I could do. They come up with some pretty clever stuff, although it lives in their world and not the realities of an art market.
DM: Where do you see your place within the pop art and surrealist traditions?
JF: I see myself as part of an Internet art renaissance. I think without the Internet my work would most likely have never been seen – this goes for a lot of artists making a name for themselves today.
As far as how I fit into those genres? I don’t think that’s for me to decide. I make things that I would like and hope others like it too. Any time I have broken away from that it’s not nearly as successful.
DM: Pop art, particularly LA pop-art tends to have a spooky quality, at least to me – there’s a sense that beneath the shiny surfaces of popular culture, something has gone very wrong. Is this something you identify with in your work or other artists’? Your work takes this a step further, deconstructing familiar objects in a physical dimension, as well as gesturing to an erosion of meaning in a conceptual one. How would you describe this impulse to dissect?
JF: To me, today’s pop art is about juxtapositions and contrast, the extreme being cute/scary. My anatomical toy work is a juxtaposition of childs toy and an adult scientific view. I love the complexity of the anatomy contrasting with the simple toy shapes.
DM: What makes you want to look inside something? What do you expect to find?
JF: I love watching the grotesque skull and skeletal systems materialize as I sculpt them.
DM: You’ve described your current exhibit “Molt” as a moment of departure, moving away from dissecting toys and other readymade prop objects, and focusing instead on pieces depicting original characters. I’d love to hear more about this. Did any particular piece or moment trigger this transition? What kinds of forms and surfaces do you hope to explore next?
JF: The move is for several reasons.
This from a recent post of mine:
The work I do is very labor intensive, taking weeks and sometimes months to complete. Everything is hand made. Just about everything is done by eye (aside from using a ruler or compass from time to time). I use only a grinding tool and a belt sander as far as power tools are used. all this labor adds up to some pricey artwork in the end and out of reach for most.
When licensed characters are used as in my anatomical toy dissections, it limits me to only that hand made piece, casting these characters would be considered “bootlegging” and is quite illegal. In order to be able to cast or manufacture my pieces so they are more available I must own the designs outright, hence my move to my own characters… I want everyone to be able to have a piece if they desire.
I also want to move on from the toy anatomies as they limit my abilities and heck, who doesn’t want to do new things?
I also think I’m done exploring them, people may still want them and I will certainly consider commissions, but I am personally finished exploring that technique.