30 May – 7 July 2001
White Cube Duke Street
New York-based artist Fred Tomaselli exhibited four paintings. In one, Seratonin Dock at the Phosphene Receptor (2001), cosmic decals made using pills and marijuana leaves ornately illuminate the picture plane, and painted red veins spin a tracery across a blue ground, intertwining with ominous black synapses. In Ectoplasmic Event over New Jerusalem (2001), a swirling sun is adorned with a magic mushroom that radiates skeins of pills, butterflies, cut out birds, insects and human hands. This mesmerising vision floats above a plateau that is intersected by lines and dotted with buildings.
Tomaselli paints on wooden panels, layering his surfaces with collaged elements that include a range of over-the counter medicines and hallucinogenic pills, marijuana leaves or medicinal herbs. These materials, carefully arranged in various patterns that often spiral and explode across the shiny enamelled picture plane from a centrifugal point, are suspended under a thick layer of transparent, glassy resin. Tomaselli’s gorgeously coloured, jewel-like works make reference to the counter-culture of the 1960s, as part of which drug consumption was romantically associated with utopianism. With their delicately painted arabesques and swirls, the images also recall both Islamic architectural design and Indian Tantric painting. Tomaselli grew up in Los Angeles, in a house that overlooked the grounds of Disneyland: an environment that constitutes the ultimate blend of the real and the imagined. As a result of where he lived, the artificial reality of the theme park became for the artist, a ‘normal part’ of his everyday life. He has often incorporated images of flora and fauna into his work, using insects, flowers, butterflies and colourful birds to form the core of his dense, galactic patterns. The illusionistic depth and shallow picture plane of the image refers to medieval painting; Tomaselli is interested in the parallels between the pre-modern ideal of a painting as a window onto another world, and the escapist rhetoric of psychedelic drugs and the 1960s hippie movement, as well as the pleasures that both offer.
By combining ‘real’ and painted objects in his work, the artist further manipulates visual reality, transporting the viewer into the space of the picture but at the same time, openly revealing the mechanics of seduction. The works thus become both a window and a mirror. For Tomaselli, the ‘inquiry into utopia/dystopia—framed by artifice but motivated by the desire for the ‘real’ is the primary subject of my work.’