The Digital and the Natural: Devra Freelander in the Studio

January 10, 2019 by

Devra Freelander thinks of her sculptures as “2.5-dimensional.” She deftly plans and renders works in digital space before executing them in three dimensions, typically through the processes of resin casting, dyeing, and sanding. Preferring crisp edges and bright, even colors to hand-drawn lines or brushstrokes, Freelander uses Photoshop as her sketchbook to express a “digital-spatial aesthetic.”  She thinks of such works as two-dimensional shapes extruded in space, relishing the fact that the word “extrusion” can be used to describe both computer graphic objects and geological forms.

Freelander tends to position her work at the nexus of the digital and the natural. During and since completing her MFA at the Rhode Island School of Design in 2016, she has developed a visual vocabulary of orbs, shards, mountains, sunsets, and horizons, using a glowing palette of fluorescent resins, enamels, and plasters. Within Freelander’s work, digital images serve both as source material and as archival strategy. In addition to digitally manipulating pictures to inform three-dimensional pieces, Freelander exuberantly documents and shares many aspects of her practice—from the studio to exhibitions to collections—on social media with her many followers. In a fluid feedback loop, she metabolizes digital imagery to make her work and metabolizes her work into digital imagery.

During her residency at the Women’s Studio Workshop this fall, Freelander applied this approach to her experiments in a medium that was entirely new to her: screen printing. For this new body of work, Fluorescent Sunscape and CMYK Sunsets, she created six series of prints drawn from the same source image, which she took at sunset on a recent trip to the Grand Teton National Park. Freelander’s interest in polar landscapes and mountainous terrain has guided her to Iceland, Antarctica, the Arctic Circle, and the deserts of the American West. Thinking through “polarity” both as a type of ecosystem and a state of contradiction, the artist is equally aware of the sublime beauty and the deep fragility of the earth.

For the prints she produced in Kingston, Freelander “punched out” sections from a single picture in which she found a particular level of detail in the sky illuminated by the setting sun. Each circular cutout looks like a different radiant planet, psychedelic crystal ball, or view through a telescope or porthole. Working in Photoshop, Freelander separated each image into individual color channels and printed them in fluorescent versions of Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow. Freelander writes, “I use fluorescent colors because of their ability to produce an almost digital luminescence. Looking hard at a fluorescent pink orb feels just as retina-searing as the oppressive blue light of a LED screen at 3am, or even better, like looking directly at the sun.”

The color gradients produced by the sunrise and sunset are extremely important to the artist, who has actually experienced stress dreams about missing these magic times of day. She describes her largest commission to date, Fluorescent Sunrise, a seven- by fourteen-foot semi-circular resin disc that faded from pink to orange, as an effort to stretch out the ecstasy of that moment using amplified fluorescent hues, a human scale, and a rigid material to freeze the ephemerality of shifting light and color. In an analogous fashion, Freelander’s prints are the result of her effort to capture and share the contemplative, slowed down feeling of perception that she experiences in nature. Believing that people should experience art every day, the artist appreciates the medium of print for its accessibility, portability, and multiplicity.

Freelander describes being surprised by the appearance of these two-dimensional works. She found that the halftone dot pattern of the source images interacted with the mesh of the silkscreen to create a moiré effect that mimics that of another kind of screen: the one on a smartphone or a computer. At the intersection of the physical, visual, digital, and natural, Freelander’s Sunscapes both interrogate and embrace our mediated relationship with the natural world.

Devra Freelander received her MFA in Sculpture from Rhode Island School of Design in 2016, and her BA with honors in Studio Art from Oberlin College in 2012. Freelander has exhibited with CRUSH Curatorial, SPRING/BREAK Art Show, the Affordable Art Fair, the New York Design Center, the RISD Museum, Zoya Tommy Contemporary, the White Gallery, and the Fjuk Arts Centre. She is the co-founder of the feminist sculptor collective MATERIAL GIRLS, and a recipient of the 2016 St. Botolph Club Foundation Emerging Artist Award. She has participated in the Arctic Circle Residency, Socrates Sculpture Park Emerging Artist Fellowship, LowerManhattan Cultural Council Workspace Residency, and Virginia Commonwealth University Summer Studio Program.

Jana La Brasca is a doctoral student  in art history at the CUNY Graduate Center whose work focuses on postwar art practices that engage with and express human relationships to land, landscape, and place. Originally from Los Angeles, she recently moved to New York from Marfa, Texas, where she was the Catalogue Raisonné Research Fellow at Judd Foundation.