The weird and wonderful task of crafting 3D paintings out of antique cabinets with FreelingWaters

The Amsterdam-based duo find antique treasures from across the ages and meticulously bring them back to life with a fresh artistic spin.

29 September 2022

One word to describe the FreelingWaters studio by artists Gijs Frieling and Job Wouters would be ‘hypnotic’. Their paintings, meticulously crafted over cabinets to create surreal yet useful pieces of art, are strangely satisfying to the senses. “FreelingWaters is about bridging the gap between art and design,” explains Gijs to It’s Nice That. “We make three-dimensional paintings that can be used for storage because everything that can be painted on a canvas can, and can better be, painted on a cabinet.” For FreelingWaters, a cabinet is much more than your next Ikea purchase. It has a host of untapped artistic potential: “it is an object with a front, a back and sides, a fundament and a roof; it has a door and contains space,” says Gijs. Oddly, it is the perfect canvas for a three-dimensional painting.

Gijs and Job first met back in 2007, in a large artist-run gallery in the centre of Amsterdam. Job was a graphic designer and Gijs was a curator with a painting background. “We worked together on several shows, for example one where Job and his friend Yvo Sprey drew huge and dense ornamental frames and captions around the exhibited paintings and photographs with broad gold and silver markers.” Their artistic endeavours intertwined, and what fortified their bond was their mutual appreciation for painting “as a skill instead of a ‘struggle with the canvas’,” Gijs recalls. “We liked the idea of an evolving painterly repertoire and felt that the way in which Job painted ornamental letters was hardly different than the way in which I painted flowers, leaves and birds.”


Freeling Waters: Collection 3 (Copyright Freeling Waters, 2022)

Now, they’re a tried-and-tested duo who create fantastical work. And they know a lot about cabinets, too. “We find 19th, sometimes even 18th Century pinewood cabinets in second hand shops, and they are stripped, cleaned and restored. We combine three to eight cabinets to form a collection,” Gijs says. “We then go into a process of selecting a combination of pigments that we want to use for this collection, somewhere between two and seven.” From there, the duo consider ornaments, patterns, figurations and the combinations and contrasts between in and outside. “Very important is the paint, because we make it ourselves from pigments and casein glue and it is extremely matte,” Gijs adds. “Because of that, the colours are very strong and have a kind of visual independence from the three-dimensionality of the object and the lighting situation. The cabinets become almost flat, also when seen from an angle, and turn into paintings in a way.”

The response to the work has been interesting, especially from avid antique collectors. “We once had an Instagram comment from someone who stated that antiques should only be conserved and stay as they are,” Gijs tells us. “The cabinets we use, however, were meant to be painted because they are made of very simple and quite soft wood and needed to be protected.” Overall, though, most people are enthusiastic about the repurposing of the cabinets. “Some people even say that they are refreshing and something completely different and new, which surprises us because there is such a great and wild history of decorated furniture, at least in Europe.”

Currently, the two are working on a couple of private commissioned cabinets. “And we are preparing a new collection of which we will show some pieces with The Future Perfect at Design Miami in December,” Gijs concludes.

GalleryFreeling Waters: Collection 3 (Copyright Freeling Waters, 2022)

GalleryFreeling Waters: Collection 2 (Copyright Freeling Waters, 2022)

GalleryFreeling Waters: Collection 1 (Copyright Freeling Waters, 2022)

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Freeling Waters: Collection 3 (Copyright Freeling Waters, 2022)

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About the Author

Joey Levenson

Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. They were part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.

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