Heryk Tomassini: Behind the Fabric

by New York Spaces

New York City is a playground for the creative. It provides a labyrinth of motion, emotion, cacophony, harmony, and animus. For the observer, it is the light cascading through the steel beams of a bridge, the peeling paint off an abandoned building, the graffiti-plastered edge of a utility pole, or even the outfit of the girl breezing by that spurs the spark of recognition—there is the inspiration. It is truly a city that never sleeps, at least not visually. Each person, each street, provides an assembly of intermixing stories and crossed connections that unite us in one intoxicating web.

New York City has long been a cultural mecca, drawing artists, poets, and musicians from all over the world. From the Beat Poets, to The Ramones, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, Warhol, Basquiat, Schnabel…the list of people who have changed the landscape of our city pecking away at their typewriters, creating beautiful music, and changing the way we see the world through sculpture, canvas, or photography is vast. What was once a downtown crowd of visual bon vivants, has reassembled in a new generation of creative thinkers and doers coming out of Brooklyn.

One such artist, Puerto Rican-born architect Heryk Tomassini, is one of many in a diverse mass of creators. It was his insouciant abandon of work on his highly popular abstract paintings that first drew my attention. I was initially baffled as to how an artist could simply discard a favored form of art he had obviously mastered. But Tomassini didn't see it that way at all. “I see an evolution. The influence, the discourse, the message, and the search are still the same. I just use a different medium,” he says.

To understand the artist’s statement, is to understand where he came from. The Caribbean island of Puerto Rico first lost its independence with the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the 15th century. In 1898, after the Spanish-American war, the island went from being a Spanish colony to a territory of the United States. It remains a multicultural island, full of complex layers brought on by both the imposition and the adoption of policies and attitudes. Harkening back to Tomassini’s previous work, each abstract painting is made up of layers and layers of dense lines of vibrant color. At first glance they bring forth the joy of color and life on a Caribbean island. At second, the dense network of colorful lines begins to take shape as a symbol of layers of oppression and influence on an island that has not been able to dictate its own landscape.

When you view Tomassini’s new work in that light, a common thread emerges. While no longer working in paint, Tomassini continues a social discourse by using discarded factory materials to create sculptural paintings. He simultaneously refers to his life growing up on an island in which his grandmother was forced to work in a factory to make a living, while also directly acknowledging the assembly line culture of rampant consumerism and subsequent waste. He takes what is essentially garbage and uses it for good by giving it new life as art. This subtle but thought-out social commentary is on par with Ghanaian-born artist El Anatsui—one of Tomassini’s biggest influences.  

“I have always been interested in the process, the materials, and how I can combine them to make an idea,” says Tomassini. It took a serendipitous comment by a friend about how a cloth factory in Queens constantly threw out leftover fabrics to start the process. As another hard-working New Yorker, Tomassini’s new body of work is also a testament to how the economic factor of living in this city can influence art. Suddenly, the materials to create are everywhere. And that is just where we expect to see this artist sometime soon. Everywhere.