People | 20 QUESTIONS

Freyja Dean: Art, mythology and prog rock

by Jessica Gu

Contributing Writer

Name: Freyja Dean
Nationality: British
Occupation: Artist (www.freyjadean.com)
Likes: Compliments about my work, strangers who let me pet their dogs, all the migraine foods — cheese, chocolate, wine
Dislikes: Artists’/writers’ block


1. Where is your name from? Freyja is a goddess in Norse mythology, from my mum’s favorite stories. My birth gave my dad the inspiration to create a painting called “Freyja’s Castle.” Mythology plays an important role in our family’s design.

2. Your dad, Roger Dean, is a famed prog rock record-sleeve designer who has worked with the likes of Yes and Asia. What was it like growing up surrounded by artists? I didn’t realize that there was anything extraordinary about my parents and the artists I grew up around, but I do appreciate their artistic influence imprinted on my subconscious mind.

3. Do prog rock fans visit your shows? Prog rock lovers are connoisseurs as much as they are fans, this is particularly true in Japan. Their interests are wide and deep, so they often come and provide extremely interesting conversations at exhibitions.

4. What is the significance of science in your art? Combining science and art is my starting point and inspiration. I used to be an anatomical model-maker for the Royal College of Surgeons of England. If you are ever in need of inspiration, I recommend a medical history museum. You learn a great deal about what it is to be human, for better or worse, on many levels, and how this has evolved over history.

5. How do people react to your work? I often hear people comment on the detail and that they’re surprised to find something beautiful in what they would have thought unpleasant to look at, like a dissection; a lot of people find my landscapes calming, despite the busyness of them.

6. What do you think a Japanese art audience desires? I’ve noticed a tradition of wanting to perfect everything. I have that same drive to make the perfect version of what I see in my mind, but this pursuit can be endless and drive you to insanity. This quality of insane perfection is very Japanese and I love it.

7. What kind of role do you hope to play in the Japanese art market? The art market can be seen as having three tiers: 1) merchandise and prints, 2) $2,000 to $5,000 purchases for love, 3) big name Picasso/Warhol/Van Gogh-type investment pieces. Japan has no second tier. I think it comes down to a cultural bent toward minimalism and simplicity and the practical issue of living in small spaces. I’d love to promote art as something that enriches life — something that can be integrated into the home and become part of a sense of self.

8. What keeps you happy? Making a breakthrough with a piece of work.

9. Which painting of yours did a Hong Kong art collector fall in love with so much that he instantly bought it? It was one of a series of three goddesses. He bought Baba Yaga, a Russian forest deity. If you make work you are passionate about, your audience will find you.

10. What do you miss the most about the U.K.? I do often miss a good, loud, passionate, sweaty, hearty argument. Politics, art, history, news, whatever it is, I love the experience of being tested in my ideas and seeing someone else sit back and readjust their previously ingrained ideas.

11. Deep Purple has complimented your fashion artwork. How did that happen? It was a wonderful surprise. At a meet and greet, (drummer) Ian Paice said to two Japanese fans,”Thank you for dressing up so nicely to the show!” They replied, “Gorgeous, aren’t they? Designed by Freyja Dean.” I was very flattered.

12. Have you ever been starstruck? I didn’t know the physical power of being truly starstruck until I met Gary Oldman and could not stop shaking while I told him what a huge fan I was and then profusely apologized for my existence. He was lovely. I’ve adored him since I saw him in “Dracula” when I was 15, and still do.

13. What are you reading and watching right now? Erin Meyer’s “The Culture Map,” Steve Odin’s “Tragic Beauty in Whitehead and Japanese Aesthetics,” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” on Netflix.

14. Can you describe some of your creative process? I often start with flicking through several art books simultaneously to merge images in my mind. Collaging also helps with this process of “recognizing” a unique image and then I work from that.

15. Is there anything you want to artistically experiment with next? 3D printing! Then I can make something incredibly complex much more accessible.

16. What’s been keeping you busy? Painting and improving my Japanese.

17. What is the wildest dream you’ve ever had? A medieval nun illuminating manuscripts while all her peers died of plague around her. She propped them up in the scriptorium to keep her awake and they decomposed and morphed into the strange monsters you often see in the margins of bibles.

18. Name three artists you want to collaborate with. Takayuki Matsumine, an artist with extraordinary work; Manabu Ikeda, the artist who I came to Japan for; and teamLab, to explore multisensory experiences based on the body.

19 Do you have any favorite Tokyo places? Courtyard Hiroo, Mizuma Art Gallery and the Nezu Museum.

20. What do you see transforming the art world in 10 years? Ubiquity.