The Psychedelic Art of Fred Tomaselli

by Margot BuermannPosted on


Fred Tomaselli’s psychedelic painting/collage hybrids have mind-altering tendencies in more ways than one. Over his career, the artist has earned a reputation for blending psychotropic substances with cut-out photos of animals and human parts to create his surreal works of art. Newer pieces shift the focus to more conventional photo collage and acrylic, yet are no less mesmerizing. Colorful and imaginative, Tomaselli’s works are like portals to an alternate universe, where his “inquiry into utopia/dystopia – framed by artifice but motivated by the desire for the real – has turned out to be the primary subject”.



Tomaselli’s use of unorthodox materials, especially hallucinogens, in his art has become as much a topic of conversation as his subject matter. Datura and marijuana leaves, mushrooms, and pills make up a myriad of cosmic patterns and designs, and bring a new meaning to the term “psychedelic art”. The substances are interwoven with carefully curated illustrations of butterflies, birds, insects, and human body parts that are cut out from various books and magazines. These materials are secured to wood panels and sealed in a layer of clear, epoxy resin.



Within his works, the artist references different eras of popular culture and art history, including the 1970s West Coast drug counterculture, minimalism, Eastern tapestries and early Italian Renaissance frescos. An avid birder and lover of nature, Tomaselli often uses exotic birds, spiders, and other animals as focal subjects in his collages. Other pieces feature men and women, and reveal modern re-workings of classic allegorical figures. In Untitled (Expulsion), images of Adam and Eve borrowed from Masaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden better resemble anatomical studies than biblical characters. Another work, titled Guided Fields, presents the artist’s own take on the grim reaper.




Tomaselli has been featured in the New York Times and in exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Brooklyn Museum of Art, and Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Readers may also recognize the artist from his various contributions to the music world: his work was used as cover art for Elysian Fields’ album Dreams that Breathe Your Name and partial cover art for The Magnetic Fields’ album i. The artist also designed the cover for Laura Cantrell’s album Humming by the Flowered Vine and was featured in the band Wilco’s The Wilco Book.


Fred Tomaselli was born in 1956 in Santa Monica and is currently based in Brooklyn. He holds a BA in Painting and Drawing from California State University at Fullerton. More of his work can be viewed through James Cohan Gallery and White Cube Gallery.

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