Art in motion

A Bali-based, Swedish-Italian artist makes his Malaysian debut with a powerful display of moving emotions.

One look at the raw exuberance emanating from Federico Tomasi’s swirling canvases depicting emotion and you’d say for sure that this is a man who was born to become an artist. But the 36-year-old is not that presumptuous, and is quick to point out that, sometimes, your path in life is not clearly marked; it is a journey of discovery.

“To become an artist, you need a reason to paint, not just the ability. It’s just like a musician and his instrument. You can make music but it has to come from inside, from your soul, if not, there is something missing,” says Tomasi during a recent interview when he was in Kuala Lumpur to talk about his debut exhibition in Malaysia.

Tomasi’s antecedents certainly seemed to signal a career in the arts; his father was a product of Stockholm’s well-known Academy of Art and did a stint as a theatre set designer; the artist of Swiss and Italian parentage followed in his father’s footsteps and entered the Institute of Art in Riccone, Italy, in 1989, where some of his teachers described him as having “a great hand”.

Despite that endorsement, though, Tomasi insists that the inevitability of his future still did not seem concrete: “I was not yet mature and I needed to develop my mind, my instincts, my emotions and my soul,” he says of his decision to venture into fashion design at couture house Lorenzo Riva.

“At the age of 18 or 19, it is difficult to plan what to do in the future. You’re also influenced by many different points of view. I thought fashion could be a creative outlet for me, and I did learn many things. But I quickly realised that it wasn’t really my road.”

Little did he know then how fateful his subsequent visit to Singapore in 1997 would be. Tomasi came to see his father, who had settled into the field of industrial design on the island republic, and then travelled through Asia, ending up in Bali – where his life changed forever.

“My mind set changed completely. The incredible pride that the people of Bali have for life changed me because I started to understand myself and believe in myself.”

“I carried back with me all the impressions I had received during the trip and for the first time in my life, I started painting without any reference. It was like a need, I was compelled to express myself,” says Tomasi.

Well, that certainly sounds like the birth of a full fledged, committed artist. This fundamental change in Tomasi did not go unnoticed by his friends and family, who encouraged the young man. His father advised him to show his art, which led to Tomasi’s participation in a group exhibition at the Singapore Hilton’s Notice Gallery in 1998. This was followed by another group show at Plastic Kinetic Worms Gallery before his first solo exhibition a year later at the island’s London Fine Art Gallery.

Proving the adage that travel truly does broaden the mind, a trip to New York and a solo exhibition at the city’s Glen & Gale Gallery in 2002 marked another turning point in Tomasi’s journey through life.

“I had been using oil paint for a while and was starting to get frustrated because my mind was going faster than the process and instinctively I knew that I had to try new ways of expressing myself,” explains Tomasi.

“So when I went to New York, it was with this hunger, and I saw a lot of things, among which was Jackson Pollock’s work, whose technique influenced me greatly,” the artist says.

Pollock (1912-1956) was an Abstract Expressionist who developed painting techniques such as pouring, dripping and even throwing paint at large canvases laid on the floor; these techniques came to be called “action painting”.

Finally, armed with a method that matched his madness, Federico took to action painting with a gusto that not only left fans breathless over the primal energy of his works for the next seven years but also brought a sweet mixture of contentment and relief to the artist who had finally found the shoe that fit.

“I love how my work comes completely from my instincts, it’s almost unconscious and I’m never in total control,” says Tomasi, explaining how he works. “I am inspired by my mistakes because it’s not about reaching a goal, it’s the freedom of not knowing where you’ll end up,” he smiles.

Tomasi is constantly surprised by his own work, he says, because the paint he uses produces a chemical reaction before it dries, so the result is never what he set out to do: “The paint flows wherever it wants to and I think it’s a very nice dialogue. Whenever I look at my works, it seems like they’re always moving.”

Currently based in in Bali, Tomasi is making his Malaysian debut at Zinc Art Space this month with a collection of paintings entitled e)motion, which perfectly encapsulates his fascination with human expression and the constant movement of his technique.

The 24 canvases, divided evenly between big and small sizes, display Tomasi’s recent exploration of faces in which abstraction meets realism in an explosive riot of colours. The power of the emotions come across clearly in the tension between the realistic rendering of eyes and abstract faces.

“I see it (the face) as a mask, and the eyes are the real person behind that. In today’s world, we’re all holding ourselves behind masks, behind material things, and what you derive from your emotional reaction is revealing your subconscious,” divulges Tomasi.

Written by: 
Nicole Foo