Fred Tomaselli : Doppler Effect in Blue, 2002, leaves, pills, photocollage, acrylic and resin on wood panel, 61 x 61cm; collection of Raymond Foye; courtesy Fruitmarket Gallery

Within the space of ten years, the way that we communicate has been altered irrevocably through the mainstream development of the internet and e-mail. What was once real is now unreal in an age of virtual reality, breast implants and embryo cloning. In his first UK solo show, Monsters of Paradise , Fred Tomaselli presents his take on man’s current condition, sifting through this unreality in an attempt to find something meaningful.

Tomaselli’s work is visually explosive and decorative, containing more detail than the eye can take in within a single glance. His paintings are the sum of often thousands of individual elements, urging you to look closer, acting like portals into weird and otherwordly realities. Tomaselli’s most recent works combine the abstract with figurative. Figures are intrically composed using images cut from magazines. Multiple eyes, noses and mouths merge to construct a face, worms create intestines, flowers bloom from breasts. Tomaselli’s figures are both fact and fiction, merging the real with the metaphorical. They inhabit magical and surreal realities, where vivid patterns constructed from insects, flowers, leaves, illicit drugs and body parts swirl around them like a perceivable energy.

Fred Tomaselli: Expecting to Fly, 2002,photocollage, leaves, acrylic, gouache and resin on wood panel, 122 x 122cm; collection of Janice and Mickey Cartin; courtesy Fruitmarket Gallery

Tomaselli grew up in the ’70s, during which time he was a self-confessed “stoner, a hippie without idealogy" [1] . The inclusion of both legal and illegal substances in his work has raised more than a few eyebrows. A 1994 Paris exhibition resulted in empty walls after all of his work was locked up in customs. It’s the kind of controversy which distracts from the real message of his work. Tomaselli draws from his own experiences as a means of talking about the bigger picture. Tomaselli writes:

We live in a mutating landscape of rapidly hybridizing bits Ð on the level of DNA and binary code, in the cross-pollination of global instant-access culture, of Eastern and Western pictorial traditions, and vernacular and Ôhigh art’ references. [2]

Fred Tomaselli: Heavy Metal Drummer , 2004,photocollage, leaves, acrylic, gouache and resin on wood panel, 183 x 183 cm; Courtesy Jay Jopling/White Cube (London) / Fruitmarket Gallery

This cross-pollination of cultures that Tomaselli mentions is also evident within his own work. In Heavy Metal Drummer (2004) a multi-armed figure bearing twirling drumsticks appears like the Hindu god Shiva. Tomaselli mixes eastern and western symbols, rock god with Hindu. His figure beats drums that are enveloped by flames, conveying like Shiva the power to both destroy and create.

Tomaselli’s work often evokes themes explored throughout the history of visual art, such as Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden. In Expulsion, (2000) paradise appears as an explosion of colour and forms. His figures are stripped bare, existing soley from flesh and veins. Whereas in his other works, figures are made from the stuff of the universe, Expulsion shows Tomaselli’s couple set apart from it.

Fred Tomaselli: Big Bird, 2004, leaves, photocollage, gouache, acrylic and resin on wood panel, 122 x 122cm; courtesy Jay Jopling/White Cube (London) / Fruitmarket Gallery

The publication that accompanies the exhibition reveals a compulsive collector and cataloguer of objects, images and experiences. Photographs of Tomaselli at work show the artist surrounded by countless sheets of paper containing neatly cut out images, arranged by subject, size and colour. Marijuana leaves are encased in piles of plastic sheets. Drugs of every colour and form are neatly arranged in rows of bottles. Tomaselli’s paintings constrast the natural world with the manmade and clinical. Ultimately, we view the world through idealogies, belief systems and the chemicals we ingest. Tomaselli shows that in today’s society there is no such thing as purity.

Jacqui McIntosh is a freelance writer based in Dublin.

[1] & [2] Fred Tomaselli, Monsters of Paradise , My Chemical Sublime, page 43

Fred Tomaselli, Monsters of Paradise , Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh 31 July – 3 October 2004; the show travels to the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, 9 March – 19 June 2005