The Future Perfect opens the first American solo exhibition by Dutch design duo FreelingWaters

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The Future Perfect opens the first American solo exhibition by Dutch design duo FreelingWaters
FreelingWaters, Octavia Cabinet 1, 2022. Antique pine cabinet with pigmented caesin paint. 26W x 72H x 19D inches. Unique. Courtesy: The artists and The Future Perfect, New York.

NEW YORK, NY.- The Future Perfect is presenting the first American solo exhibition and third collection by Dutch design duo FreelingWaters. On view from May 19–June 17 at the gallery’s West Village townhouse, the exhibition unveils a newly commissioned collection of 18th- and 19th-century pine cabinets that have been stripped of their finishing and given highly-decorative, highly-expressive second lives. The sculptural furniture pieces will be presented alongside a site-specific mural, painted by the artists in the days leading up to the exhibition’s opening.

Consisting of Gijs Frieling — an artist known for creating large-scale murals that forge together decorative painting, folk art traditions, and religious iconography — and Job Wouters (a.k.a. Letman) — a practitioner of the lost art of psychedelic and delirious penmanship, known for his unbridled alphabetic experimentation — FreelingWaters operates between illustration, painting, graphic design and furniture design to achieve an aesthetic that transcends vernacular nostalgia.

The moniker, a misspelling and partial mispronunciation of their surnames, reflects the duo’s irreverent sensibility and style. Rejecting computer-aided graphics during his training at design school in the 90s, Wouters has become known as a graphic design cowboy, with a signature style that melds Old Western lettering with illustrations from 60s psychedelic music posters and a kaleidoscopic take on illuminated manuscripts. Frieling, a celebrated figure in the Dutch art community, has received international recognition for his imaginative, decorative painting and murals. Reintroducing 18th century folk art and pre-Renaissance wall painting into contemporary discourse, the artist takes inspiration and challenge in realms quite far removed from general contemporary artist’s feeding grounds.

Frieling and Wouters see the antique cabinets as “all-accommodating vessels just begging to be invested by the imagination,” notes Emmet Byrne, Design Director and Associate Curator of Design at the Walker Art Center. “But instead of cabinets filled with curiosities, FreelingWaters's cabinets are themselves the curiosity. This inversion is key to the duo's approach to an object that straddles the line between architecture and furniture, between 2D and 3D. The term ‘cabinet’ was originally used to describe a small private room, akin to a study. As a piece of furniture, a cabinet is decidedly volumetric, yet is always placed against a wall, facing in one direction, approached from the front. It is not such a leap, then, to imagine a cabinet as a two-dimensional image simply extruded from the background.” (1)

Pulling from the whimsical imagination of Frieling and technicolor, chirographic inclinations of Wouters, FreelingWaters’s contemplative take on upcycling offers a palette of meticulously diced, vibrant, geometric patterns and organic decorations that seem to jump off the surface. Rooted in several painted furniture traditions, in which no surface is left exposed, antique cupboards and cabinets are stripped, renovated, and emblazoned inside and out with paint the artists made from pigments and casein glue — a fast-drying medium derived from milk protein that has been used to color everything from Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans to some of the earliest known paintings on canvas, from Tibet to ancient Egypt. The technique, which has been used for thousands of years, guarantees unrivaled color intensity and durability. Due to the paint’s fast-drying nature, there is no room for mistakes or retouches, no trial and error. “Painting is to surrender to the movements of your hands,” say the artists.

Rather than holding treasured belongings and relics, each antique depository houses phantasmagoric depictions of ornate vessels, while their backsides tout the FreelingWaters brand name, work title, materials, and date and place of production in hand-printed lettering—using refined craftsmanship and painterly deception to comment on a culture dominated by mass production.

The collection of six cabinets is presented alongside a site-specific installation, in which the artists paint a trompe-l'œil mural across one of the gallery’s walls, depicting one cabinet at two different moments in time. Utilizing the same palette of pigments from Collection III, the artists coat the cabinet exteriors with imitation ‘open book marble,’ referencing the unique marble architecture of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, the creature-like ink blots found in Rorschach tests, as well as imitation marble found in 18th- and 19th-century folk decoration. The artists perform an alphabetical choreography across the cabinets' shelves and inner doors, cutting through an ultramarine blue interior featuring a sea of transparent white octopuses. A longtime friend and motif found throughout many of FreelingWaters’s painted surfaces, the octopus — known for its decentralized nervous system with nine brains — symbolizes intelligence, dexterity, and the ability to create space for the exploration of ideas.

“The Future Perfect is excited to continue its history of presenting seminal and of-the-moment talent with FreelingWaters's most exciting and ambitious collection to date," notes The Future Perfect’s Founder, David Alhadeff. “FreelingWaters's wildly unique aesthetic blends their impassioned appreciation for figurative and decorative folk art traditions with the gestural brush strokes of abstract expressionism, the geometric abstraction of Op Art and De Stijl, and the surrealist graphic sensibility of the Chicago Imagists. Their work is saturated with so many references and ideas that they become instantly timeless."

Notes The Future Perfect’s Gallery Director, Laura Young: “Our mission is to bring cutting edge contemporary craft and design into the home, transforming and elevating residences into places for contemplation and inspiration. There’s nothing more transformative than the work of FreelingWaters, which breathes new life into drab, unimaginative, timeworn cabinetry, metamorphosing them into otherworldly objects that scream at you with color and joy.”

(1) Byrne, Emmet. “‘The Cabinet Makers.’” PIN-UP Magazine, no. 31 (2021): 151.

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