Hard by the shores of Lake Shelbyville, a massive reservoir located in southern Illinois, Ioan Florea is realizing an artistic vision of the American Dream as epitomized by freedom and an iconic muscle car.
Using a unique 3D printed liquid metal transfer technique, Florea has fused the past and the present to create a wild vision of American now and then.
Displayed inside a former glove factory in downtown Carbondale, Illinois, Florea's organic additions have entirely transformed a Ford Gran Torino, in a spectacle both nightmarish and dream-like.
The undulating, 3D-printed surface of Florea's work takes the non-nonsense lines of one of Detroit's most garish products and lends them an outrageous, fluid shape. The car is both familiar and alien as a result of the artist's labor, and it is entirely appropriate that it's on display in southern Illinois.
Alongside the Torino, Florea is also showing another 3D printed work which he says was inspired by the 2600 year-old "Cyrus Cylinder." Considered "the first bill of human rights," Florea recreated the cylinder 9 feet tall and transferred the Declaration of Universal Human Rights onto the surface of the piece.
For a man who grew up under a Communist regime in Transylvania, Romania, Florea says the Cyrus Cylinder symbolizes a multiculturalism, tolerance, peace and freedom his former homeland found in short supply. Another element of the show features several large scale 3D paintings which include text inspired by the U.S. citizenship test Florea took after his arrival here.
"I was always looking to merge and break boundaries between mediums and be able to create three-dimensional structures and objects that have form and color," Florea says. "I collected bones; used clay to model shapes and make my own paints using earth pigments. Modeling clay is an additive process of adding piece by piece to build the shape in the same way the filament based additive 3D printers do. For me 3D printing is a versatile tool that complements my creative process and helps me explore new territories impossible to reach otherwise. I also formulated and invented a new line of fast dry oil paints and mediums named Alkydpro that works in combination with 3D printing technology."
According to Florea, his process is fairly straightforward.
"The actual 3D printing is basic. Design the shapes, slice them, generate the G-code and print them," Florea said. "The complicated part is the transfer technique that I invented. Like in almost every other field where 3D printing is used, it's an intermediary step. Usually the final piece is made from a different material that meets the requirements – in my case archival museum qualities. They have to be fast, lightweight and flexible. For my transfer technique, I use a mixing mill that weighs around 12000 pounds. It's a multistage process that requires exact measurements, exact timing and ideal temperature conditions. It's more like zen. Everything has to synchronize perfect to get the right result. Otherwise, I have to scrap the entire project."
Florea's transfer process takes advantage of thermoset polymers, the finished project is irreversible.
Florea uses ultralight materials – together with nanomaterials and nano-pigments – and the materials themselves dictate to the paint and polymers how to behave by creating internal three-dimensional structures.
"I started researching materials that I could be incorporated in my art a long time ago," Florea said.
"In my current work, I try to fuse the past with the new combining different artifacts and symbols of a culture with the newest materials and technologies. I'm influenced by nanotechnology, knot theory, topology and I find inspiration in ancient alphabets, mythologies, and contemporary issues."
He says one major challenge of his work is that it needs to be seen in person for a viewer to get the full effect.
"One of the misconceptions is that the 3D printer replaces the direct creative process," Florea said. "People think that you sit on a chair, press some buttons and the work of art is done. 3D is another tool that complements my creative endeavor. Another misconception is that I just print my shapes and glue them on canvas or on objects. In fact I create seamless textures with shapes that encapsulate both canvases and objects. I'm working in mixed media from painting to installation art, and I'm always curious about incorporating new materials and technologies in my art."
Florea's vision of the future extends beyond his current projects and into the theoretical. He says he's now working on "4D" printing – where the time is the fourth dimension.
"Let's imagine the Torino will change shape overnight – on its own," he says. "All the open shapes will close and form a smooth surface, or bend in different ways. A combination of materials that interact and 'self program' to modify themselves. Right now I can make the materials change and assemble before they cure, but the idea is to create a dynamic, active object with internal memory, that transforms in front of the viewer."