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|Kingdom of the Dream
by Ilka Scobie
|Fred Tomaselli, Dec. 2, 2000-Jan. 13, 2001, at James Cohan Gallery, 41 West 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10019.
Fred Tomaselli and Rick Moody, "Phrase Book and Recommended Reading," Nov. 2-Dec. 2, 2000, at Christine Burgin, 240 West 18th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011.
Fred Tomaselli is America's first 21st-century transcendentalist, a kind of postmodernist descendent of Charles Burchfield and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He has crafted a trademark hallucinogenic cartography by collaging actual pharmaceuticals and drug leaves in resin suspension. He provides an esthetic visionary experience that is inspired by asocial chemical euphoria but without the illicit activities associated with it.
In his current show of 11 large paintings and six smaller works at James Cohan, Tomaselli uses paint and collage to produce the psychedelic imagery of cobwebs, spirals, chessboards and lattices. His delicate catenaries consist of cutout eyes, hands or field-guide birds in beak to feather formation. The preternaturally intense vortex of Untitled (2000), for instance, is a mandala of butterflies, embellished sativa leaves, eyes and pills -- an image that turns out to be the voice of God banishing Adam and Eve from the garden.
In the monumental Echo Wow and Flutter, densely jeweled ellipses intersect and explode in literal daisy chains of hands, eyeballs and pill forms. Set against an obsidian background, the opulent palette and cascading swags evoke a mystical vision. Topographical map bits are captured in the web of Double Map, in which simple symmetry pulses with color, again replicating and embellishing nature.
Actual beech leaves, cut and glued, form the tree of Natural Selection. Songbirds perch in the barren branches, graceful mutant creatures with high-tech fabric feathers. The background, a vivid patchwork, is reminiscent of Japanese textiles or an American crazy quilt. Is it pastoral America or urban chaos that Tomaselli depicts?
Long interested in utopian communities, the artist has created his own in Desert Bloom. Bucolic rural homesteads, ranging from Thoreau's cottage or Unabomber Ted Kaczynski's shack, are intertwined and floating in a choreographed night kaleidoscope that can be viewed as a cosmic map or otherworldly constellation.
Last month, a different body of Tomaselli's work was on view at Christine Burgin Gallery in Chelsea. Tomaselli collaborated with the celebrated writer Rick Moody to produce an illustrated tome called Phrase Book, printed for the Whitney Museum in an edition of 150. The volume is enclosed in a wooden slipcase, embellished with seven images by Tomaselli. The book has end papers printed with a primary-colored maze that resembles the intricacies of an oil slick.
Best known for his novel The Ice Storm, Moody here writes of a young woman's LSD overdose and subsequent hospitalization. Tomaselli has depicted Lucy, the burnt-out heroine, as a bruised and prone female, moths cascading from an abyss in her back. An innocent tree, replete with crimson fruit, recreates a haunted Garden of Eden.
The show at Christine Burgin show featured two shelves of books and records selected by the collaborators. Both artist and writer reveal a penchant for bird books and the early Punk scene. Tomaselli's anthropological choices includes Strausbaugh's The Drug User, Albert Hoffman's memoir, LSD: My Problem Child and the ever-handy Physician's Desk Reference Manual.
Tomaselli's gorgeously hypnotic and labor-intensive paintings are in great demand by museums as well as private collectors. No surprise. His alchemy of blurred figuration and abstraction, art and decoration seems particularly fresh, a sensual art that celebrates and transmutes the beauty of the everyday.
ILKA SCOBIE is a New York poet and art critic.