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Tomasula, Maria By Hands Unknown, 2000


Maria Tomasula is the Michael P. Grace Professor of Art at the University of Notre Dame in St. Joseph County, Indiana, and teaches painting and drawing at the school. She received her bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago and her master of fine arts degree from Northwestern University.

Growing up on the south side of Chicago, Tomasula was influenced by a unique blend of Catholic religious imagery and the street murals of her immigrant neighborhood. Her photorealistic paintings are often theatrical in their staging and composition—with objects compressed in a narrow space and accented by colorful draperies. In a recent exhibit catalog, Tomasula stated that she uses “traditional modes of representation to articulate themes of contemporary identity and being.”

  • By Hands Unknown, 2000
  • 42″ x 42″
  • Private Collection
  • Keywords: paintings, narrative, oil on linen
  • Subjects: hands, gloves, butterflies, flowers, religions

According to Tomasula, “What I wanted to do in this painting was to conjure up the idea of a creator, but one whose form is hidden, or sheathed. The glove reads as a sort of elegant, feminine piece of formal clothing. Out of a small tear in the palm of the red satin glove emerge a number of strands, or threads, that attach to a halo of flowers and butterflies that surround the glove. I hoped to produce a picture that brings to mind the relation of the created world to our ideas of a creator and the ways we think of ultimate originators.”

Some Points To Consider

  • Ask students what influences of Tomusula’s unique blend of Catholic religious imagery and her own Latin American background they can find. In what ways do they think the painting looks religious or Latino? (Art 4.1.1)
  • Ask: What do the items mean? What might they symbolize? (Art 4.1.3)
  • Ask students what makes this painting contemporary and not traditional. (Art 4.2.3)