In the world of toy designers, Jason Freeny is the paradigm of a cutaway artist.
His semi-anatomical dissections of various mass-market iconic characters, created in his Moist Production studio, expose the subjects and their cute culture to a frankensteinian reinterpretation and reveal “a juxtaposition of cute and anything that has lost its innocence” (the artist’s words).
His anatomy toys made him Breakthrough Artist in 2011, Fan Favorite in 2013, Custom of the Year in 2014, Artist of the Year – Fan Choice (by Clutter Magazine readers) in 2014, and Best Vinyl & Plastic toy designer in 2016.
How did it all start? So far, how do you see your participation to the toy-making scene?
I’ve held “normal” design jobs most of my life, I’ve always put aside time at night and weekends to create my own design work. I discovered toys as a medium during a short stint as a contracted “toy inventor”. I enjoyed creating the look of toys when I was supposed to be concentrating on features. I took a leap of faith as an independent designer/artist after the start-up company I was working for ran out of funding.
Your semi-anatomical sculptures reveal a coherent imagery. How did you end up doing them? Can you trace any specific approach?
It started about 5 years ago when I wanted to explore what the anatomy of a Balloon animal would look like. I let the exterior shape of the character dictate what the insides should look like. All mammals have a similar anatomical make-up; I apply that theory to the anatomical sculpts.
Are the anatomies your distinctive feature in the toy industry?
Currently yes. People love them and I really enjoy the process myself. I have only a vague idea of what it will look like myself before starting so it is a discovery to me as well.
Is there any sense of humor involved? Not to lose the idea of play, the background of your work, maybe?
I’m 14 years old at heart but my body is 42. I like to evoke a reaction to my work; if it’s humor, that’s fine with me, as long as it’s something.
Can you remember any piece of work now irrelevant to your style?
In my early years I would try to mimic the styles of the artists whose work I liked: Escher, Dali, George Petty, Robert Williams. Most of that work is irrelevant now, but you can see little pieces of what would become my own style in the details…
Does your work involve any system of practice with popular toys, dissection knowledge, some sort of philosophy regarding the true self, alienation or dualism?
I like to create objects that I would want in my own home; if people like them or connect to them, then that is a bonus.
Have you done any personal research on pop culture?
I love pop art and am always keeping an eye on it. My father was a professor of sculpture and painting; we were always going to galleries when I was a child. It stuck with me, I suppose.
Most chief aspects of your work have a close relationship with the physical reality. Based on the natural pattern and the iconic image of famous characters, did you mean to challenge the concept of identity? Are the anatomies some sort of subtler identity?
I think the characters created by the original designers have taken on a “real life” of their own through time. I’m just taking them to their logical conclusion.
Is Kitty Fetus an allegory of understanding the idea of comfort brought by the global market of cuteness? A reinterpretation of necessity?
That piece was actually a challenge I put upon myself. I read an article about how Sanrio was worried they had licensed Hello Kitty to everything possible and there were no more options… I found one.
In your opinion, what is prevalent in pop culture toys?
Irony. A juxtaposition of cute and anything that has lost its innocence.
Would you rather engage in a collective artistic practice or take on projects personally?
My entire career before I became a “solo” artist was working with teams. I find them both rewarding but enjoy the unbridled process and decision making of working alone.
What type of responses do you receive from your public? Have you influenced any designer particularly?
I post lots of work in progress shots on my Facebook page. Most people seem to enjoy watching the process of something being created from scratch. There are a handful of artists who I inspire and they write me in private. I doubt any established artists would give me credit if I inspired them, it’s the nature of artists to feel like an island, whether they are influenced by outside elements or not.
Taking into account your main subjects of reinterpretation (Hello Kitty, Mario, Domo-kun etc.), how much of your work is “Japanese”?
I don’t choose any particular nationality of toy. I choose whatever it is that inspires me. It just so happens that a good amount of them are Japanese. Maybe 40%. I do love Japanese culture, as well as the food.
What’s the future of the anatomy series?
I’m mostly moving on to my own designs and leaving the anatomies behind me. It’s just a natural progression. I will most likely always create one every now and then, but only if I find a toy that inspires….
Monica works as a writer and translator, and is a passionate researcher of pop-culture, anthropology and cinema. In her spare time she also enjoys toy photography and often searches for old Japanese art toys to enlarge her collection. She also loves to discover monsters from old movies, folk tales, myths and legends of various cultures.