Nickel City Gritty: Rich Tomasello
Buffalo has such an incredibly thriving art scene.
What I love is that there are so many people doing the most incredible things with all types of mediums.
One of these local artists who is a master in the world of mixed media is Rich Tomasello. I first met Rich a few years ago as he shares an art studio with my friend Chuck Tingley. Rich’s work is striking and reflects the political climate that we are currently living in. His large-scale pieces catch your eye and really make you think about what’s going on in the world around you.
I was thrilled to be able to sit down with Rich and chat about his art, his family, and his love of hip hop and wrestling.
This is Nickel City Gritty, and this is Rich Tomasello.
Tell me about how you got started in art and how you chose your subject matter.
I got my BFA from UB, I went right to Buffalo State College and got my teaching certification, my Master’s in Education, and at the same time I got married, bought our house, had our first child, and so for me, I’m coming to it a little later. I wasn’t right out of college- I’m an artist now. I’ve always made art and it’s always been the biggest part of my life. It was really around the time of of my later 20’s, 464 was blowing up and I was going to different art events in Buffalo and I was feeling something there. I met Chuck Tingley at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, and he was in a little show where he had a painting on an easel, and I knew that he was affiliated with 464, I respected his work, and it just took off from there. Him and I became fast friends and now we’re best friends. Being a part of that community and that environment, I realized that I needed to have my own solo show and I put it together myself at 464. At that first show was a lot of family and friends, but it was successful and I sold work. Sometimes you need that affirmation of, “I can do this and this is what I should be doing.” And I knew at that time, I was happy, but there was a huge part of me missing in my life. I just had to flip a switch and say, that’s it, I’m an artist, how can I not be doing this.
So as far as my subject matter goes…I got beat up at a bar by six guys and the psychological trauma put itself into my work. That was my reality check, like welcome to the world, it’s not like the simple happy sometimes bad things happen to people type of thing. It really stuck with me, and with the physical attack, a lot stuck with masculinity and being belittled and used and the things that were said. All these things really came out then and there. There’s pros and cons to everything, right? So had that never happened to me, I don’t know what kind of artwork I’d be making. So it’s good and it’s bad…that was eighteen years ago. It’s in all of the work that I make. It’s not there daily in life, but it’s always in my artwork.
Describe your personal style.
My personal style is mostly black, only ever Adidas…the Adidas is definitely from Beastie Boys and Run DMC…I do have a love for hip hop and rap. The Beastie Boys are my favorite of all time group, nobody can top them for me, they are my Beatles. So anyways, yes, mostly black…I love my black and white Adidas and sometimes I like a shirt with a collar *laughs* But they are usually kind of artsier shirts. I don’t tuck my shirt into my pants! There’s nothing wrong with that but I mean, ya know. I like my 716 hat…I don’t usually wear a hat all the time, though. Sometimes I like shirts with the little things on the shoulders. What are those called? Epaulettes?
Yes! Very good!
Hey, see that! They were on my Boy Scout shirt, too, when I was a kid. So there it is. But that slight, not quite military aesthetic, but a tiny bit of that. I’m definitely drawn to that.
What is your most prized possession?
So, I am an avid toy and action figure collector. I have a special childhood GI Joe toy that, if we’re talking about a possession would be it. So, it’s a tie between a childhood GI Joe toy and a replica Ric Flair wrestling belt that he signed at a Buffalo comic convention. Okay wait, the wrestling belt would have to be number one. A signed Ric Flair wrestling belt. I’ve been Ric Flair for Halloween probably four times in my life. I literally bleached my hair blonde when I was in college to be Ric Flair. That was a fun process. My mom bleached my hair. That was ridiculous!
Who or where would you haunt if you were a ghost?
Oh lord! I have a slight fear that at some point a ghost will sort of, in a good way or a bad way, latch onto me and haunt me. I mean, I’m not trying to go real real deep here, but man, what if all of a sudden in the house it’s like, oh crap we have a ghost. It would really creep me out! And it’s like, I don’t know if that happens to good people or bad people…or just people. Ummmm…okay so I’m almost afraid to answer this because I don’t want it to come true. Central Terminal would be a pretty cool place. Central Terminal, and then I would pick, like, a really famous sports arena, but more so like for wrestling. To be a part of and watch the wrestlers interact behind the scenes and the stories and some of the debauchery and the ridiculousness. Move some chairs around, jump around the ring but no one knows ‘cause I’m a ghost. I wouldn’t want to haunt a specific person or anything like that in a negative way.
What is your biggest fear?
My biggest fear is protecting my family. I’m assuming that’s the case for most parents, but yeah, when it comes down to it that’s all that matters. You can’t be everywhere at once and at some point your kids grow up. My biggest fear is not being able to take care of the people that I’m supposed to take care of.
What is your spirit animal?
Good question. So, I don’t know if I know for sure, but I’m a Gemini, and I looked up online once actually related to a project I was working on with my students, and I think it can be a deer, but I’d have to look again. I’m not super knowledgable with what goes with a Gemini.
Are there any animals that you feel like you identify with?
Not really! I’m allergic to cats and dogs…SUPER allergic to cats, kind of allergic to dogs, so that’s made me sort of not an animal person. When I was growing up, that wasn’t a part of my life. I couldn’t be around people’s pets. So now, because of that, we have Russian Tortoises, and they’re very easy and they’re cute, and so I guess if I had to pick, I identify with tortoises! That is the one pet that we have.
What is something that you think everybody looks stupid doing?
Ummmm…okay, so I’ve taken selfies. I’ve taken selfies like just about everybody else. And the selfie you took, the actual picture, looks great. I mean, we look fantastic in them. But from the outside looking at someone taking one, it looks kind of stupid. But because I’ve done it, I’m not picking on folks, but I try to do it in the privacy of my art studio where people aren’t watching me doing it.
What is on your playlist?
The Beastie Boys. I like just about all 80’s and 90’s hip hop, rap. I know some current stuff, but I still enjoy, from time to time, Helmet or, maybe not quite Pantera, but there’s like a harder side…like the Deftones. It’s like that whatever type of rock type music definitely mixed in. It’s like 50/50 that and hip hop. But I like things that are a little slightly off the beaten path like Tugboat Annie, Pixies, Tool, System of a Down, and Rage Against the Machine. And not to get too overtly political, but with the current political climate, I don’t know how you couldn’t listen to Rage Against the Machine.
What is something that people fear but doesn’t scare you at all?
Hmmm…that’s a good question. Oh! Public speaking. I know some people are scared of it. I’m very comfortable speaking to people. I’m like, give me the people, I’ll do my best to be entertaining and it won’t be for everybody, but to me it will be entertaining so I’ll be happy doing it.
What is one of the best things that happened to you last week?
Okay, *laughs* so I am the Cub Master of my son’s Cub Scout Pack, which is cute because my son is in 4th grade. So I was helping the new Tiger Den Leader do activities with the Tiger Cubs and they are only in 1st grade. It was really cute and really sweet, but there is an art connection, too. A dad of one of the kids works with ASI, the Arts Services Initiative. He’s on the board and was like, “Oh my gosh I love your work, I didn’t know you were an artist.” because to him I’m just his kid’s Cub Master. So he reached out to the director there and talked about funding and getting information for shows and grants as an artist. On his own it was just an awesome gesture and we’re gonna set up a meeting to talk about things that I might not know about and it was really sweet. It’s like, you’re volunteering your time as a Cub Master and everyone’s lives are busy and sometimes that’s not an easy thing to do and here’s somebody who is appreciating that and offering help for you in what you’re passionate about. It was just super nice and unexpected. People don’t normally do that, like they’ll say it but don’t follow through.
What random award or recognition do you feel like you deserve?
Alright, well back in the day, I won the ELAB “Keeping it Real” award. So, it’s been many many years gone by, and I think I should be up for the “Keeping it Real” award, because I think I keep it real. That’s the bottom line.
When do you feel the most confident?
I think the honest answer would be when I’m creating. When I’m making art and when I’m creating. I think that’s a tie with being a dad. I’m confident as a father. I’m not trying to compare, but it’s two totally different things. That would definitely be the two moments when I’m the most confident.
What amazing thing did you do that nobody was around to see?
Actually making it through the subway system in New York City. I had to go over a bridge, park a car, come back in a certain time…I was super proud that I did that by myself. And it was the first time that I was ever in New York City in my life. It was the Affordable Art Fair with Chuck Tingley and Marcus Wise and I had to take care of the vehicle and we were younger with no money and on a budget. And I did it right and didn’t get lost…I’m so bad with directions.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I want to be an artist when I grow up. That’s what I want to do. That’s it, man.