Fred Tomaselli makes exquisitely rendered paintings on wood panels, combining an array of unorthodox materials suspended in a thick layer of clear, epoxy resin. Medicinal herbs, prescription pills and hallucinogenic plants are combined with images cut from books and magazines: flowers, birds, butterflies, arms, legs and noses, for example, are worked into dazzling patterns that spread over the surface of the painting like a beautiful virus or growth.
Tomaselli sees his paintings and their compendium of data as windows into a surreal, hallucinatory universe. “It is my ultimate aim”, he says, “to seduce and transport the viewer in to space of these pictures while simultaneously revealing the mechanics of that seduction.” Tomaselli has also incorporated allegorical figures into his work – in Untitled (Expulsion) (2000), for example, he borrows the Adam and Eve figures from Masaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (1426-27), and in Field Guides (2003) he creates his own version of the grim reaper. His figures are described anatomically so that their organs and veins are exposed in the manner of a scientific drawing. He writes that his “inquiry into utopia/dystopia – framed by artifice but motivated by the desire for the real – has turned out to be the primary subject of my work”.
Tomaselli grew up in Southern California, where what he has described as “artificial, immersive, theme park reality” was a normal part of everyday life and the idea of a “contaminated” image – one that is Post-modern in its borrowing from both high and low culture – permeates his work.