Artist Fred Tomaselli recently turned off a radioactive NPR in his East Village studio, settled in a creaky swivel chair, and described where he spent his early pandemic after his studio assistant “fled to Vermont”. “My job is usually very difficult – I can’t lift it myself,” he said. “So I thought fuck it, I’m going to take my studio and put it in my guest room in Williamsburg and just do little drawings that are kind of a deep dive into the plight of … COVIDbecause every day was a banner headline. It was like that in March BOOM BOOM BOOM– every day was just an earthquake. “
In this bedroom he scanned the front pages of the Just, they are printed on watercolor paper, painted over and collaged, creating colorful patterns that are often reminiscent of groovy stained glass windows. Eventually, he started moving components that didn’t match headlines and photos. The White Cube gallery in London is showing a number of these works in a digital exhibition that runs until December 26th.
Tucked away in Williamsburg, Tomaselli, who is sixty-five, does handicrafts, gardening, riding bikes, boogie boarding, fly fishing and birding. “It was like I was back in high school,” he said. (He grew up in California, “in the shadow of Disneyland – I let Tinker Bell fly into the night sky in front of my house, in the middle of the fireworks.” He continued, “I’m a great bird watcher, and I never really had a chance to concentrate on my backyard beforehand. But I think I got seven new backyard birds during the pandemic. I had a Nashville and a Wilson singer in my plum tree – like on the same tree, at the same time! “
Prints of the newspaper articles hung behind Tomaselli, in a plaid flannel over a gray T-shirt, black jeans, and trainers. One of September 29, 2021 showed a photo of a yellow bird on which he had put yellow flowers and around which he had added a leaf pattern, all under the heading “COVID INCORRECT INFORMATION CREATES RUN ON ANIMAL MEDICINE. “
He asked his new assistant, Ryan, to dig up the current newspaper for that day – “He Knows Where Shit Is.” The top headline read “MILITARY RECOMMENDED BIDEN, EXTEND AFGHAN PRESENCE” and has been paired with a photo of scowling General Mark A. Milley. Under the fold was the bird labeled, âThe Maui nukupu’u, last seen in 1996, is one of 22 animals to join the list of lost species. Page A17. “
Tomaselli’s bird life list, which he has kept since the 1990s, includes around four hundred species. He walked over to stacks of boxes and files and began pulling out other collections.
âI have New York every Just since 2005, âhe said. âThis file is ‘collage stuff, people,’ so it’s like plastic trash and eyeballs and noses and lips and hands and feet and mouths.â All of these were scanned, reprinted, cut out, and arranged by color and size to make the collage easier. Other drawers and boxes were labeled “card prints”, “paper blocks” and “POTâ(As in the leaves that he presses and uses in his work).
“Hey, Ryan,” he called. “Do you know where my insects are?”
“How, real insects?” Ryan asked as he continued to cut out scanned images of bird’s feet with an X-Acto knife.
“Wait, look, there are some Monarch butterfly wings here,” said Tomaselli. âIn my butterfly bush was a large praying mantis that killed butterflies and found the wings. And I thought, Well, the praying mantis is giving me a present. âHe stopped. “On the other hand, monarch butterfly populations are collapsing, that’s killing me.”
Near the files was a centuries-old Tibetan thangka (which, according to Tomaselli, “the union of compassion and wisdom on this sundial that dances to ignorance”), slightly damaged by yak oil smoke. Allen Ginsberg – another thangka collector – died upstairs. âTwo floors, but how directâRemarked Tomaselli.
He pointed to a sheet of foam from a building, the US Embassy in Bangkok, for which he was designing an elliptical mosaic. Next to it was a reject with a mosaic owl. “I was going to do that, but I just found out that owls are bad luck there,” he said.
He had made one Just– Manipulation work on the late Barry the Owl who was famous in Central Park. In Tomaselli’s play, Barry is featured with the headline “AGAINST THE AFGHAN CHAOS, BIDEN DEFENDS THE EXIT.“They don’t make sense together, but it just felt right,” he said. âI saw Barry; I see all the prominent birds. âThe mandarin duck? âI saw this duck before it got famous! And I was like it was an escaped pet, a bloody big deal. And then the mandarin duck became one matter, by doing Messages, and I thought this duck was a fake! They know you can buy them on the internet for a hundred and fifty dollars. They are, so to speak, ornamental ducks that you can have in your ornamental pond in your Connecticut garden. ââ¦