Artist talks inspiration, styrofoam

While art students may start out working in pencil and charcoal, artist Tom Friedman gave some insight in a Monday talk into the successful use of more unconventional materials, such as hair and Styrofoam.

Friedman, who has exhibited his work across the globe from London to Tokyo, spoke to a group of around 30 art students and faculty at the School of Art Monday night about the inspirations for his works since his first solo exhibition in 1991. Best known for the radical and often humorous nature of his work, Friedman’s multimedia creations range from collages made of cut-outs from porn magazines to Styrofoam and paint sculptures.

After a seven-year absence from the United States to show internationally, Friedman marked his return to the states with an exhibition titled “New Work,” which debuted at the Luhring Augustine gallery in New York on Feb. 11.

Of the many materials he has incorporated into his art ­— past resources include newspaper, sawdust and human hair — Friedman said his preferred medium is Styrofoam balls. He spent a year creating a painting entitled “Verisimilitude” made entirely of white and multi-colored Styrofoam balls glued to paper and mounted on a large board, a perfectly symmetrical abstract piece that was shown as part of “New Work.”

For a 2008 solo exhibition called “Monsters and Stuff” at the Gagosian Gallery in London, Friedman created a life-size zombie out of the lightweight material.

“I think of [using Styrofoam] as building the piece from the atom up,” Friedman said. “First I made the skeletal structure, then added a layer of tendons and finally a layer of flesh over that. The Styrofoam is like a stand in for the atoms and molecules that make up everything.”

Friedman said he also enjoys playing with words in his art: he created a painting which on a first glance looks like the word “verisimilitude” typed 30 times in a vertical column. Each one, however, is misspelled in a slightly different way, Friedman said, adding that the painting was actually hand-drawn and intended to give the illusion of being typewritten.

“I think [Friedman’s work] is a great example of how extreme thinking doesn’t have to be dry, dead or dogmatic but through really using one’s hand can show much more complex emotional and intellectual ideas,” said Associate Dean of the School of Art Samuel Messer.

Three School of Art students at the talk said they appreciated gaining insight into the influence of Friedman’s personal life on his work. Friedman attributed the inspiration for a large collage of faces looking directly ahead to his wife, adding that he placed a photograph of her at the forefront of the collage.

“I really liked the way he explained how he came up with the concept behind each piece and how his personal life affected his work,” art major Leeron Tur-Kaspa ’13 said.

Dean of Yale School of Art Robert Storr curated Friedman’s breakout exhibition at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1995.

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