The Mesmerizing Art of Fred Tomaselli
by Laura Heyrman
“I want people to get lost in the work. I want to seduce people into it and I want people to escape inside the world of the work.”
Enter the mysterious, mesmerizing worlds of Fred Tomaselli (American, b. 1956). Tomaselli is best known for colorful multimedia works covered in a layer of clear resin; his collaged paintings have included over-the-counter and prescription medications, medicinal herbs and other organic materials, and realistic printed images. The resulting works create intensely detailed images that draw the viewer closer and closer until they are, as the artist wishes, lost in the art.
Tomaselli gained notice in the 1990s for his collages containing arrangements of colorful pills. Of works like 49 Palms Oasis (1995) and Echo, Wow and Flutter (2000), the artist said “These chemical cocktails can no longer reach the brain through the bloodstream and must take a different route to altering perception. In my work, they travel to the brain through the eyes.”
In the early 2000s, the human figure, often comprised of collaged images of internal organs, muscles, veins, and nerves, began to appear in Tomaselli’s works. While many body parts are correctly located, others are misplaced surrealistically, such as the eyes by the left knee of the figure in Field Guides (2003). The artist has spoken of his interest in utopias and dystopias and the worlds Tomaselli creates in works like Field Guides challenge the viewer to decide whether they are looking at a utopian vision or a dystopian one.
Tomaselli’s work has attracted several musical acts to collaborate with him on their album art. The cover of Laura Cantrell’s Humming By the Flowered Vine (2005) includes one the recurring themes of Tomaselli’s works, the natural world, especially the world of birds. “I throw all of my obsessions and loves into the work, and I try not to be too embarrassed about any of it. I love nature, I love gardening, I love watching birds, and all of that gets into the work.”
In 2005 Tomaselli began using the front page of the New York Times as a base for painted and collaged works. These works have also been reproduced in limited print editions. The Covid-19 emergency inspired March 16, 2020 (2020), the first work the artist created during quarantine and of it he said, “This woman is walking into the unknown. I wanted to make her really stark and make her really isolated, but I also wanted to talk about hope.”
In his most recent works, strings of text taken from newspapers have been introduced to Tomaselli’s collages. Though quite legible to the viewer, they are taken out of context so that their original meaning is lost, a practice reminiscent of Dada and Surrealist artists' fragmentation of the real world to create new, and sometimes disconcerting, realities. “There’s this smashing together of these two realities. The wondrousness of nature and the wondrousness of life, the kind of cosmic quality of the essential mysteries of life, and this other thing – this calamity that is going on that is cultural and man-made and media driven.”
Enjoy this trip through a some of the mind-bending, thought-provoking creations of Fred Tomaselli. If a caption overlaps the image, click on the image to close the caption.