Friday, November 26, 2010

Fred Tomaselli at the Brooklyn Museum

by baad lamb
Prescription pills, marijuana leaves, peyote buttons, mushrooms and other psychotropic plant matter are carefully arranged along with brightly colored magazine and picture book clippings of human body parts, flowers and insects. These form beautiful, super-sized collages of kaleidoscopic shapes emanating from the altered states of human forms or floating out of the heads of intricately and accurately patterned birds, all the while suspended in multiple layers of clear resin, blowtorched to a high-gloss sheen, and delicately accented with hand-painted details of swirling, fiery flourishes.
Last Saturday, I went to the Brooklyn Museum to see the mid-career survey of California native, Brooklyn based painter Fred Tomaselli. I had been eager to see this show since its opening in early October, and I was prepared to like it just based on available reviews and on-line photos. I must stress that nothing on the net can compare to in-person viewing of the multiple levels (literally) in these “paintings”. In fact, they are so much more than paintings, as his x-acto knife, blowtorch and green thumb are all employed in the elaborate productions as often as his paintbrush. His love of birds and music prominently colors this collection, and collection is also literal- so much so that perhaps archive is a better word. Just have a look...
(Lots of pics and Tomaselli's own "how it's done" video after the jump)

True to both inner and outer space, more is revealed the deeper you go. Standing in the center of the gallery, one admires the brightly colored compositions contrasting nicely against dark fields. The first impression is of naive, childlike sincerity: here, a bird with open beak singing at the moon, there, another bird perched on a branch with just-caught prey; a child surrounded by his favorite toys.
(Embiggen all for full appreciation.)

Move in closer, and an open mesh of painted feathers reveals the bird is composed of a teeming mass of insects. Look closer still, and what seemed like a single beak from a distance is actually hundreds of smaller beaks, Chuck Close-like pixels purposely placed to play with our perceptions.

Similarly, as you approach the bird's eye zone, you see not one, but hundreds of eyes. Continuing visually inward, you paradoxically find yourself rocketing outward into space, as the bird's edges are defined by flaming sunspots, and the upper cosmos fills with exploding geometric constellations.

A few things to note:
It's hard to tell without any scale to compare, but these multi-media collages are quite large, many are 6'x8' or larger. With no flash allowed, the colors, resolution and sharpness are all much better in real life than I am able to convey with my digital camera here.
Also, the works are only fully appreciated when you see the full depth of images and items suspended in resin above others, and experience the dizzy effect of standing close while your eyes try to focus on everything.

Below are more full paintings followed by close-ups from them:

And some final awesome close-ups from the bird with prey shown full size earlier:

Fred Tomaselli continues at the Brooklyn Museum to January 2, 2011. Get there if you can!
Here is his video explaining his process:


  1. This is amazing work. The detail, those colours against the black is very effective. Thank you for sharing

  2. This is OUTSTANDING! Wish I could have seen it!