Maria Tomasula speaks about photo-realistic paintings, sense of self

“Painting isn’t only about self-expression, and it’s not only about translating experience into form. I think making art really has to do with advocating a position.”

As part of its Visiting Artist Talk series, the School of Art invited painter Maria Tomasula to speak about her photo-realistic paintings, where she explores embodying feelings and senses through art.  

Heidi Jensen, associate professor of art and interim associate director of the School of Art, introduced Tomasula to a room packed full of students. Jensen said she had an experience with Tomsula’s art before meeting her. 

At one of the past universities Jensen worked at, she said she had a student who was accepted into the M.F.A program at the University of Notre Dame, where Tomsula works. After the student graduated, he sent Jensen the application materials he had acquired for his upcoming job search. 

“After I had looked at his letter, artist statement and the work that he had developed during his time in the M.F.A. program, I could tell that someone had worked really closely with him,” Jensen said. “[They] helped him develop elevated work and writing to be in the competitive professional arena that he was going to be entering into. I asked him who he worked with, and he told me Maria Tomasula.”

With saturated colors and complex compositional arrangements, Tomasula said in her paintings, she tries to give a visual form to a feeling or a sense of being. 

“It comes from a particular set of experiences that are historically and materially situated because they involve having [been] encountered over a lifetime,” Tomasula said. 

Tomasula said she has lived through “four overlapping thought worlds,” which include traditional, modern, postmodern and dispersed worlds that help her imagine people in distinct ways. 

To Tomsula, being a part of the traditional thought world means having an understanding of self being, and one develops their self being in a modern thought world. 

Tomasula said in the past, she found herself changing into a postmodern subject who had been socially influenced and constructed. Now, she considers herself to be a dispersive and distributed self, who happens to be “entangled with the material world and composed of multiplicities.”

As her art focuses on subjects such as religion, life and death and the beauty of nature, Tomasula said her paintings are her way of exploring who she is, which she has developed through her life experiences. 

For example, Tomasula said while she was in college, she wanted to center her art around the impact of what she experienced in church. These images were her focal points that helped her create a singular, cohesive force to connect to her community.

Through her experience with Catholicism, Tomasula said she has gained an understanding of the world which centers on embodiment and the needs of our species. Because of this, her work is oriented toward considerations of matter and individuals. 

“This results in paintings that are really visually potent,” Jensen said.

 Contact Kamryn Tomlinson with comments at 


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