A new line of psychedelic furniture from Dutch designers

Photo: Alexandra Rowley, courtesy of the artists and The Future Perfect

Artists Gijs Frieling and Job Wouters, known collectively as FreelingWaters, say they’re not big fans of psychedelics, but that’s a question that often comes up when people see the exuberant patterns that Dutch designers apply to their murals and furniture. “People say all the time, ‘You must be on a lot of drugs,'” Frieling says as he shows me around their new collection of hand-painted antique cabinets, “Collection III,” which opened last week at Future Perfect’s West Village house-gallery. Pointing to the sinuous curves and grid illusions, vividly rendered in oxide yellow, ultramarine blue, English red and emerald green, Wouters explains, “It looks wild and playful, but our process is very strict.” For example, each collection is limited to a set number of unmixed pigments and the designs are applied freehand with meticulous attention to the angle of the brush. Wouters compares the dichotomy between process and outcome to techno music: “At the party, everyone is going all out, but in his studio, the DJ is very precise.

Frieling, known for his folk art-inspired murals, and illustrative calligraphy specialist Wouters have worked together for more than a decade, starting with the 2010 monograph Gijs Frieling: vernacular painting, for which Wouters rendered the fonts by hand to complement Frieling’s work. The book then spurred a collaboration with Dries van Noten in 2012. Their foray into furniture only started two years ago as the COVID lockdown gave them more time to develop their concept, inspired by the books. which they had collected from paintings painted in the 18th century. furniture. “We were thinking of doing a little test, but it got out of control and became a collection,” says Wouters.

hadassaby FreelingWaters

octaviaby FreelingWaters.

Lucian and Sigmundby FreelingWaters

frenchby Freeling Waters

frenchby Freeling Waters

andersonby FreelingWaters

“Collection III”, by FreelingWaters

Photographs of Alexandra Rowley, courtesy of the artists and The Future Perfect, Alexandra Rowley, courtesy of the artists and The Future Perfect

Their third collection of recycled Czech and German cabinets from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries arrives in a resurgence of psychedelic-inspired works. Acne has just announced a collaboration with artist Angelo Plessas around its ritual talismans. Poltrona Frau is launching a special anniversary edition of its Armchair Archibald adorned with the Op Art of Felipe Pantone. And we’ve seen recent retrospectives of the late Verner Panton’s work at R&Company in New York and the Trapholt Museum in Kolding, Denmark, ushering a new generation into the Danish design legend’s consciousness-expanding mission. At a time when micro-dosing, wishful thinking, and metaverse are becoming more pervasive and mainstream, it seems the way psychedelic aesthetics challenge consensus reality, or at least offer an escape from it, is deeply attractive.

Exhibition taken from Verner Panton’s retrospective at R&Company.
Photo: Joe Kramm, courtesy of R& Company

The artists themselves are more absorbed in where their process takes them. One of FreelingWaters cabinets, octavia, named after science fiction writer Octavia Butler, references a wave pattern by Verner Panton (which also ended up in a Dries Van Noten collection in 2018, six years after the couple’s own collection with the fashion house). The cabinet’s retro hues of black, white, gold, orange and rust are “very 70s,” Frieling says, but he gets even more worked up when explaining how the 90-degree angle of the brush determines the outline of the lines. “It’s a stroke exercise,” adds Wouters. While the reference to Panton was deliberate, the pair say they generally focus on exploring different combinations of shapes, colors and gradients, and any connection to vernacular references, like vintage Western lettering and Kente weaving patterns, emerges from this experimentation.

The densely patterned cabinets seem to work as a sort of Rorschach test for onlookers (and two cabinets in this new collection explicitly reference inkblot patterns). Felix Burrichter, founder and creative director of TO DISPLAY magazine, appreciates the allusions to “Flemish Renaissance art, 60s Op Art and psychedelic 90s techno” that he sees in their work. Some of the grid-like patterns in this collection have the effect of an optical illusion, where the depth of three-dimensional objects disappears into a flat, two-dimensional impression at certain angles. But while this may remind the viewer of Op Art, Frieling and Wouters would instead point out how a super matte finish makes this effect possible. It’s obvious that Dutch designers are more enthusiastic about talking about their process and techniques than the cultural influences behind their work. “We don’t care so much about the reaction the work should elicit,” says Wouters. “We are more curious to see how it is received.”

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