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article imageThe Surrealist Imagination of Digital Artist Jason Freeny

By David Silverberg     Oct 19, 2008 in Internet
Digital Journal — Jason Freeny is a rebel artist with a cause: to toy with, well, toys. His playful digital art tweaks pop icons such as LEGO characters and gummi bears, revealing a unique side to everyday imagery. His latest project? Slicing a Lego mini figure in half to display the anatomy of the toy. It’s like Body Worlds for kids.
The 38-year-old interface designer, who lives in Long Island with his wife and two kids, has embraced his inner child. His previous digital art has manipulated gummi bears to reveal their inner anatomy, added menacing teeth to floppy plungers, and created 3-D effects of an open mouth overlaid on a T-shirt. He has brought his imaginative designs to skateboard decks, mugs, prints and even kids’ toys.
Viewing a Freeny piece is like experiencing instant sensory gratification. His art is clean but wild, distinct yet familiar. It’s as if you are enjoying comfort food (like a robot toy) and veering them into a holiday from reality. An image like Babies and Rabies could be simply passed off as the dreamscape drawing of an artist downing two tabs of acid, but Freeny’s statement is more nuanced; there is a purpose to every piece, a layer beyond what is simply viewed.
A Tonka robot  redone
Jason Freeny's work paints an imaginative landscape, where toy robots escape their packages
Courtesy Jason Freeny
His fans are clamouring to his work: on Oct. 15 alone, his blog enjoyed more than 13,400 unique hits.
To find out what sparks his imagination and how he applies his ideas to paper, um, I mean screen, spoke to Freeny in a recent interview. How long have you been designing your own logos and T-shirts? Was there a seminal moment that got you into design?
Jason Freeny: I’ve been surrounded by art my whole life. My father was a painting and was a sculpture professor at the University of Maryland when I was young. My mother has always been a big fan of the theater and has worked as a costume designer on more then one occasion.
There have been many seminal moments. Discovering Dali and Robert Williams are two notable ones. Your digital art has been labelled "pop surrealist" by some. Do you agree?
Freeny: I agree, thats what I label it. Fits the genre perfectly. Pop culture plus surrealism. I have also been tagged as "cartoon surrealism" as well, but they are very similar. Looking Micro Schematic (the LEGO character), I would think you are in love with anatomy...or toys. Or both? What is it about spliced bodies that get you going as an artist?
Freeny: Yes, I love both. Actually my whole family loves both. I spent a year as a toy designer a few years back. I wasn’t very successful at it. The industry is very “feature” driven and I’m more of a “stylist,” and I like to make things look pretty. That’s when I discovered the Urban Vinyl genre, an industry that is 100 per cent style.
We have a fascination of anatomy in my family. My five-year-old son is a huge fan. He calls it "inside body" and has a stack of anatomy books two feet high. Anatomy is just really beautiful to look at, and I think it fascinates just about everyone.
: Describe the technology and process. For Schematic, for instance, what software do you use? How long does it take? For a skate deck design, how do you apply the graphics perfectly?
Jason Freeny s take on plungers
Jason Freeny had always wanted to tweak a plunger's look to resemble something more ferocious
Courtesy Jason Freeny
Freeny: All my digital images are first modeled and rendered in Maya, then composited in Photoshop as well as some use of Illustrator. Every illustration is different and take different amounts of time. But on average they take about 30 hours each.
Freeny: When you release your art to the Net, what reaction do you want to get? And if there's no reaction, does that dishearten you? Of course, I hope each image is well-received. But that is not always the case. My last image before the LEGO anatomy called “Medicine Man” barely showed a blip on my hit counter. The images that utilize pop iconography seem to be very popular. The LEGO anatomy has been bombarding my site to the point where I’m actually concerned I will use up my monthly alloted bandwidth on my server.
And yes, I do get a little disheartened when I get no response. But I can pretty much tell which images will be well received or not. I just move on to the next one.
To view Freeny's art, visit his gallery here.
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