“Every sculptor I really admire is working on how to use it,” says the gray-goateed Dreyfuss.
“Printer” is a slightly misleading term for the apparatus. It doesn’t spit out paper copies; it slowly builds plastic ones. A nozzle extrudes ivory-colored plastic, layer by sixteenth-of-an-inch layer, to fabricate an item designed with software.
Whether to create models or finished works, the use of 3-D printing in fine-art sculpture is still relatively rare. But those who employ it expect it grow, as the process becomes cheaper, more refined and simply better known. Some advocates of 3-D printing extol its ability to let anyone create sculptures, for good or ill. And artists in commercial design see a particularly promising future for it.
Dreyfuss, a onetime architecture student who dropped out of Harvard’s graduate school in the mid-1970s to become a sculptor’s assistant, heard about 3-D printing from his architecture contacts. “It seemed perfect for what I do,” says Dreyfuss, whose work relies on elegant, streamlined forms rather than, say, found objects or industrial-style brutalism.
He has used a computer with Rhinoceros 3-D software and his printer to make a mold that’s ultimately cast in fiberglass, bronze and aluminum. “Once you cut the shape,” he notes, “you can make [the sculpture] out of any material you want.”
It takes Dreyfuss’s printer about seven hours to construct a piece the printer’s maximum size: 12-inches high by 8-inches wide. If he needs something bigger, he prints multiple pieces and glues them together.
The ability to adjust size is important to Dreyfuss. His studio contains two life-sized fiberglass models of lions, designed to flank the entrance to a Bethesda condominium building. The sculptor loaned the models to his clients so they could contemplate their form before the final piece was forged in bronze. The condo developers ultimately decided the beasts should be 20 percent larger, which was easily arranged.
The current Artisphere exhibition, “The Next Wave: Industrial Design Innovation in the 21st Century,” showcases a lamp whose honeycombed plastic form popped from a 3-D printer. It was made by a Belgian firm with an apt name, Materialize.
“Right now, it is cost-prohibitive to make these products in mass,” notes Douglas Burton, curator of the Artisphere show and co-owner of Apartment Zero, a D.C. design incubation organization.
“This piece we’re showing is a $4,000 piece,” he says. “The first time I looked at it, and didn’t realize it was done by 3-D printing, I thought, ‘How in the world can this little plastic lamp cost that much?’ But when you understand the technology behind it, it makes sense.”