I was in Chelsea this past weekend doing the usual gallery art crawl. The show that stood out to me for various reasons was "Fred Tomaselli: Early Work or How I Became a Painter" at James Cohan Gallery (533 W 26th St).
For those of you who are hearing the name Fred Tomaselli for the first time, let me quickly bring you up to speed. He was born in Santa Monica, California in 1956 and incorporates the hallucinogenic vestiges of the 60s counter-culture movement in his art. His paintings at first look abstract, swirls and tendrils of color typically on a smooth black surface, colorful stars floating in a far-away galaxy. Upon looking closer at the 'paintings,' one recognizes everyday items including Tylenol pills, marijuana leaves, and magazine clippings of birds, butterflies, and any other such creature or ingredient that has the power to fly high into the sky...
These chemical cocktails [embedded in the paintings] 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.
The work becomes retinal and cerebral, demanding psychological engagement as to discern the materials, whilst providing intense visual stimulation.
The show at James Cohan is interesting as Tomaselli reveals his exploration and experimentation with other forms of media besides painting. After he graduated from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in painting and drawing, he suffered an artistic crisis. He turned to installation art and immersive environments, comprised of degraded materials and found objects. One such work forces the viewer to insert his/her head into a box with a hole in it that is affixed to the wall. Inside is nothing but blackness and twinkling stars. The viewer has the experience vis-a-vis a kinetic relationship with the object, making the inanimate object come to life. Another piece called "Current Theory" from 1984 is literally rows of Styrofoam cups, tethered to the ground by a foot-long piece of thread, with a large fan blowing them back and forth. The cups look as though they are trembling. choppy waves at sea.
Tomaselli eventually returned to his two-dimensional roots with his resin-based works using pharmaceuticals and marijuana leaves to form a sort of abstract figuration. His works are arresting (pun intended) and hallucinogenic.
The show is on view until March 19; do yourself a favor and see it and then, "Turn on, tune in, and drop out."