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  • “Please mister don't touch me tomatoes
    Please don't you touch me tomatoes
    Touch me yam, pumpkin or potato --
    But for goodness sake - don't touch me tomatoes.”
    — Sam Manning

     

    Jamian Juliano-Villani was born in 1987 and grew up in Newark, New Jersey. As a daughter of commercial painters, she was immersed in the graphic design of the 1970s and 1980s, an influence which can clearly be traced in her riotous and highly graphic paintings. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including fashion, photography, illustration and art history, Juliano-Villani’s work is nothing short of schizophrenic. Through research and spontaneous discovery, she seeks out images with a ‘subliminal cultural power’, projecting her findings from cartoons and comic books, television stills and personal photographs onto her canvas, building a narrative of disparate layers and esoteric references. What results is a surrealistic kaleidoscope of characters and objects, stemming from the very recesses of her psyche.

     

    Despite the appropriation of imagery from the web, Juliano-Villani emphasises, 'I’m not trying to make post-Internet paintings. What the fuck is post-Internet? It’s life.'i

     

     

    The artist in her studio
    Photo David Williams

     

    Juliano-Villani’s riotous, lurid paintings operate in a language familiar to pop culture, irreverent in tone yet transparent in intention. What Juliano-Villani seeks is not to alienate the viewer, but to communicate a specific agenda in her highly legible, illustrative style - her attempt to dissolve the distinctions between high-brow and low-brow art, taste and class. Indeed, ‘(her) paintings are meant to function like TV, in a way. The viewer is to become passive. Instead of alluding or whispering, like a lot of art does, this is art that tells you what’s up. It kind of does the work for you, like TV does.’ii

     

     

    George Symonette and his Calypso Sextette, Calypso and Native Bahamian Rhythms, 1955 

     

    ‘Don’t Touch Mi Tomato’ takes its name from a song written in 1949 by Trinidadian musician Sam Manning, ‘Don't Touch Me Tomato’, which was recorded in 1955 by the Bahamian goombay musician George Symonette and his Calypso Sextette and released on the LP Calypso and Native Bahamian Rhythms. He was followed by a number of other singers including Josephine Baker in 1958, Phyllis Dillon, and Empress Angie in 2013 (as ‘Don’t Touch Mi Tomato’). Usually performed in the style of calypso, mento, or rocksteady, the song's suggestive lyrics jar in a post-‘Me Too’ era, with historical and systemic sexual harassment and abuse exposed across the music and arts, sciences, academia and politics.

     

     

    “Touch me this, touch me that

    Touch me everything I got

    Touch me plum, me apples too

    But here's one thing you just can't do

     

    All you do is feel up, feel up

    Ain't you tired of feel up, feel up

    All you do is squeeze up, squeeze up

    Ain't you tired of squeeze up, squeeze up

     

    Mister, take advice from me

    The more you look is the less you'll see

    But if you just must have your way

    Double the price you'll have to pay”

     

    — Sam Manning

     

     

    Juliano-Villani’s work portrays an ironic dramatised sexuality, with hyper-saturated, tumescent plants and voluptuous foliage spilling into the viewer’s plane. Her alter ego scampers away from the viewer, clad provocatively in hotpants and sheer pink top whilst clutching a clapperboard - a symbolic change of scene perhaps just announced. The titular tomato reclines naked in a hammock, a parody of sexuality and lampooning of sexual performance that subverts traditional power structures concerning the male gaze.

     

     

     The song, Don’t Touch Mi Tomato

     

     

    Jamian Juliano-Villani as quoted in Jonathan Griffin, ‘Jamian Juliano-Villani’, Jonathan Griffin: Criticism and essays on art and culture, 22 August 2014, online  

    ii Andrew Russeth, ‘Jamian Juliano-Villani Talks Painting’, ARTnews, 22 August 2014, online

    • Provenance

      Private Collection (acquired directly from the artist)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Rawson Project, Me, Myself and Jah, 14 September – 20 October 2013
      London, Phillips, Gary Card: HYSTERICAL, 18 July - 21 August 2019

    • Literature

      Priscilla Frank, ‘Jamian Juliano-Villani Talks Feminism, Art School And Sake’, The Huffington Post, 17 October 2013, online (illustrated)

107

Don't Touch Mi Tomato

signed, titled and dated '"Don't touch mi tomato" Jamian Juliano-Villani 2013' on the overlap
acrylic on canvas
86.2 x 91.2 cm. (33 7/8 x 35 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2013.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
HK$300,000 - 500,000 
€34,200-57,000
$38,500-64,100

Sold for HK$882,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+852 2318 2027
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 29 November 2021