Fred Tomaselli blends all-consuming cosmological visions of aesthetic excess with a natural appreciation of the mundane and banal world of ordinary America with its hidden subcultures and associated creative obsessions.

He finds inspiration in ‘low’ art forms and ‘counter cultural styles – air-brushed poster and customised van art, car and surf culture, and of course psychedelia with its roots in a bastardized Orientalism –[which] all share what he describes as “busyness for its own sake”.’

Tomaselli rescues disdained aesthetic idioms from their terminal banishment in the hell of decadence and kitsch: Italian Renaissancepietra durainlays, the fascination of Art Deco with precious exotic materials and surfaces and the charming clunkiness of early computer graphics are all pulled from the bottom drawer of art history and organised with way too much decorative repetition, exacting symmetry and luminous intensity. The artist politely stands back as creator and assumes the role of obsessive medium, subjecting himself to Sisyphean efforts in inexpressive repetition and hiding behind the diligent collaging of mountains of found material.

The indulgence in excessive detail and the comprehensive display of varieties of species, plants or drugs reveals an unscientifically encyclopaedic tendency, which attempts to capture the universal through the excessive accumulation of the tiniest details. Wild hot-rod flames, gyrating psychedelic swirls and blinking daisy chains of eyes, smiles and flower buds are combined to create Blakean apocalyptic visions.

The intensity of authentic experiences is hard to come by these days when the fervour of religious ecstasy or the certainty of political convictions has largely evaporated and we have to resort to an ever-changing cocktail of sex, drugs and music to achieve desired shifts of reality and emotional exaltation. Tomaselli’s work expresses a longing for the apparent innocence and optimism of the 1960s and early 1970s with its infectious, if short-lived, sense of unlimited euphoria and genuine belief in imminent Utopia. The spirit of this period seems to be best captured through the filter of nostalgia, evoked by an aesthetic vernacular which until recently was only tolerated in fashion and design. The actual pills, drugs and cannabis leaves, which are arranged in intricate ornamental patterns and embedded in layers of resin, playfully allude to the historical enthusiasm for psychedelic drugs and the loss of the promise of salvation of this period.

Chemical salvation is almost palpable in Tomaselli’s paintings, displayed as seductively as precious jewels laid out on black velvet in a dramatically-lit shop window. However, our desire to grasp hold of the dreams of eternal happiness is forever frustrated, the gleaming surface of the resin functioning as an invisible barrier that both attracts and distances. Tomaselli allows us to indulge guiltlessly in forbidden aesthetic pleasures – at a safe distance from the psycho-pharmaceutical seductions.

Untitled, 1999
Datura leaves, pills, acrylic and resin on wood
Collection Glenn Fuhrman, New York
Exhibited at Tate Liverpool

Black Diamond, 2000
Leaves, pills, photo collage, acrylic and resin on wood
Collection of Laura Steinberg & B. Nadal-Ginard
Exhibited at Tate Liverpool

Gravity in Four Directions, 2001
Leaves, pills, photocopies, acrylic and resin on wood
Courtesy The Dakis Joannou Collection Foundation, Athens
Exhibited at Tate Liverpool

Monsters of Paradise Times Two, 2002
Hemp leaves, pills, photo collage, acylic and resin on wood
Courtesy of the artist and James Cohan Gallery, New York
Exhibited at Tate Liverpool