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What do Fred Tomaselli & Picasso have in Common?

Every culture has produced more artists and writers who, as a part of their times, produce work that serves to support the culture as it is. Great artists are iconoclasts that can be understood. While upending the status quo, they do it in such a way that the can be at least understood, maybe even appreciated even by those who are culturally conservative.

All art should at least entertain. Entertainment is a diversion. It takes one's focus away from one's general concerns and for some measurable amount of time rivets it to itself. According to reports, Horror movies are currently providing the biggest box office. I suppose that if one is willing to suspend belief, then sitting in a darkened theater, a good horror movie could cause one to forget the threats of terrorism, war, economic woes, etc.

That's what entertainment does; it takes one out of one's own preoccupations for at least a moment. It is a kind of a rest or break and that's refreshing.

Entertainment comes in many forms, including puzzles, sports, watching children or animals, concerts, movies and of course, fine art. Although gallery show openings can be entertaining, sometimes it seems people are more entertained by each other than by the art.

Generally we chose to be entertained. We chose to focus our attention.

Sometimes our attention is drawn and captured.

Some of the greatest paintings ever demand one's attention when personally viewed. Wandering through MoMA, I watch as people try to move through certain galleries on their way to an exhibit. Certain paintings grab museum visitors' attention, even briefly, no matter how familiar they are with the works. They sort of startle one all over again. They have that kind of energy and presence. Charisma.

Many of these paintings were even controversial in their day. Although Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon is not something I would wish to hang in my bedroom, even if I could afford the original, still it is very difficult just to plod on past it. Van Gogh's  Starry Night almost always has a small group collected around them, while other fine (but not as arresting) paintings are often ignored.


Great works of art reach across space (hence time), communicate profoundly and change our world view. They allow us the privilege of seeing through another's eyes a true form of intimacy. When the eyes we are permitted to see through are wise about their subject, whatever the subject, we perceive it as great art.

Great paintings seem to always embody a dichotomy of opposites into a unity. As such they mirror life, which can hold the searing grief of the loss of a beloved close relative along with the joy and wonder of seeing one's own baby grandchild at a funeral reception. For example, the dichotomy of the in-your-face bravado along side the pain and fearful hiding behind a mask of the Les Demoiselles d'Avignon . Picasso understood these prostitutes, and through his eyes we come to know them too. His depiction of their bodies is fractured, angular, hard yet naked and vulnerable, depicting their essential selves.

Recently, I went to the Fred Tomaselli show at the  James Cohan Gallery  in Manhattan's downtown Chelsea district. There are a few wonderful shows of currently in the area, such as Matthew Ritchie at Andrea Rosen and Elizabeth Murray at Pace Wildenstein. Other shows might be worthy of a blog, too.

The first time I encountered Fred Tomaselli's work, it was through a middle size photo in art magazine. I thought he was very clever but fell more into design than art. Glorious and fun design for sure. Have I mentioned that I make mistakes? OK, we can let me slightly off the hook in that the size of the photo did not do that painting justice.

Fred Tomaselli creates grand worlds within worlds. He reaches beneath the beauty of an image to suggest many layers of meaning that add up to form its reality. His textures of images and nuances are fascinating. He creates wondrous dichotomies through the juxtaposition of collaged images and we see a larger realty that seems to be beautiful, until we begin to explore the tiny images that form that reality. Fred Tomaselli captures a special dichotomy that glitters with meaning, both glorious and horrific.

Tomaselli is also at times a spiritual or religious painter. Many of his overall images (created by tiny other images) deal with the creation story of Adam and Eve and Judeo-Christian symbology. 

In contemporary art Fred Tomaselli's work, along with Chuck Close's helped artistically inspire my work, which in its own way also deals with the small symbols of reality making up a whole.

The glass is always full if we learn how to focus on the true reality.

November 1, 2006

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed." -- Albert Einstein

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