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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Primacy of Form


I'd like to share with you the work of painter Fred Tomaselli for several reasons but first I feel I must justify my choice of this painter rather than an illustrator for my illustration Tuesday post. I've long held the notion the only thing that separates paintings from illustrations is a client brief and a deadline. This doesn't seem like such a mind blowing concept today but trust me, there was a time when those distinctions were very important and those boundaries were rarely crossed. Lots of illustrators now show and sell paintings in traditional fine art galleries and painters may occasionally be commissioned for illustrative work. On to what matters most...

In an ARTINFO interview Robert Ayers describes Fred Tomaselli's work thusly: Stunning large scale images, intensely colored pictures that are almost overloaded with meaning. He makes them by assembling collaged and painted images and occasional small objects that he embeds in layer after layer of resin. Among these embedded objects are - somewhat infamously - pills and marijuana leaves, which have led to the erroneous assumption that all of his work is drug fueled.

Pills, photographs, and illustrations all making beautiful patterns swimming in resin on large scale paintings... what's not to love? But all that aside, I am most intrigued with his defense of making beautiful paintings. In the postmodern fine art world the artistic integrity of making beautiful things is always questioned. It becomes too easy, too mainstream, the art too accessible. Like fine artists we graphic designers grapple with a similar problem: concept over form, which is more important? Can one exist without the other? Does the desire to make visually pleasing form and design diminish the message reducing you and your work to that of a shallow stylist? I very much liked Tomaselli's analysis regarding the primacy of form and how he feels it provides the essential visual framework for targeting the message: "I've come to believe in the primacy of form - the notion of art seducing you through your senses, through your eyeballs. It's akin to a melody in a song. That's the thing that pulls you into a song, and then later you listen to the words, and if they're any good that makes for a great, full-bodied, wonderful listening experience. There's something for your aural body, and there's something for your head. The idea of form (or visuals) first always appealed to me. Then later people think about what it means, and what else might be behind the work that can enrich the experience."