Containing some of the most iconic works in Fred Tomaselli’s career, Monsters of Paradise is an exceptional selection of the artist’s exquisitely detailed paintings and collages that mine the perceived divides between high and low art, reality and fantasy, and individual and universal. Using unconventional materials, Tomaselli creates fantastic and intricate visions from electrifying explosions of brilliantly colored bits of paper, leaves, pills, bugs, catalogues and more that he arranges in swirling, organic patterns reminiscent of both ‘60s psychedelia and Eastern abstraction. His images typically delve into the surreal, thanks in part to Tomaselli’s youth amid the superficial gloss of Disney, Hollywood and southern California. Ultimately, however, all of Tomaselli’s work is rooted in both his everyday experience and his efforts to expose the mechanics with which our reality is constructed, and he is widely acclaimed for his sophisticated synthesis of Western and Eastern artistic traditions, art history and contemporary culture.
In the present work, Tomaselli has packed the pages of Monsters of Paradise full of personal and commonplace items that he has collected, curated and arranged precisely in a process that recalls his overarching artistic strategies. Featuring a photograph of his garden, an anti-hallucinogenic drugs pamphlet, a creased paperback book cover, a copy of an article Tomaselli wrote for Artforum, exhibition brochures and more, this work essentially quotes the leaves, drugs and art history referenced in his paintings and collages. Significantly, he has also added to the book a large number of news articles, a source material that has figured prominently in his work since 2006, particularly in his collages of New York Times front pages. As Tomaselli sees it, the news impacts its audience the same way drugs and spirituality, two of his other main subjects, do: “The news is a place that people go to in order to escape. It’s another world. In some respects, it becomes peoples’ whole world. Like a shut-in who is only reading about crime in the streets all the time and becomes increasingly paranoid to the point where they won’t leave their house anymore. It affects their waking reality” (F. Tomaselli, quoted in N. Bodick, “All the News That’s Fit to Print: Fred Tomaselli on His New York Times Collage Series,” Artspace, June 12, 2014, accessed via http://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/fred-tomasell-interview, September 8, 2014). Through showing us the mechanics of our mediated reality—personal artifacts, news, culture—Tomaselli makes a powerful statement on how we establish connections with others.
Fred Tomaselli (b. 1956), Monsters of Paradise. Signed and dated “Fred Tomaselli 2014” (on the inside front cover) printed paper collage, adhesive and ink on printed book 11 3/4 x 9 1/2 x 1/4 in. Published in 2005 and executed in 2014.