Years-long scientific experiment leads to unique artwork

Local artist Tom Liguori is a one-in-a-million creator. The artist creates stunning works solely for the purpose of enjoyment and helping others as 100% of all proceeds from his “cellular” and holographic art goes to charity.

In just over a year, Liguori has donated over $160,000 to Rady Children’s Hospital, Mercy Ships, and the Gary Sinise Foundation, and created a loyal fan base of local and international art lovers. His cellular art is the result of a years-long scientific experiment, and is created primarily on canvas, while his holographic works require a vibration-free cave, which he specifically designed for his art.

PACIFIC recently pulled Liguori from his cave for a chat about his work, how cellular and holographic art is created, and the charities he supports.

PACIFIC: What is “cellular art” and how did you begin working in this style?

TOM LIGUORI: A decade ago I was in Hawaii, and the artist Elan Vital was showing his work. I was fascinated because all of the pieces were comprised of small cells ⅛ inch to ½ inch. They were colorful and brilliant, some were elongated, some larger, some smaller, and I realized the artist couldn’t have painted them, and it had to be some form of chemistry or physics he was using. To my knowledge he was the only one creating this way. So I spent six years testing resins, and with the help of a friend and business partner who is a chemist, I discovered a formula that would work in fixing resins for the same effect.

What’s the process?

After I mix the resins and color, I pour it on a canvas or other substrates I’ve been working with, and within five minutes it creates uniform cells. Once those are formed, I manipulate the canvas, I stretch out the cells or make them smaller, and add bright colors. It gives an incredible effect and is extremely unusual.

What is holographic art and why is a vibration-free zone necessary to create it?

Holographic art is a three-dimensional picture that requires a quality glass plate. Most holography is done is small format, 6-inch by 6-inch, and is easy to coat and develop. When you go to large format like I do, with 30- or 36-inch plates, it becomes extremely challenging, to not have any vibration. If there is even the slightest movement, you will have a clear piece of glass with nothing on it. If a truck or airplane passed by, just that vibration, even nanometers of movement, you get nothing. And if you have a long exposure and there is heat differential, a few degrees can be enough to expand the plate to get nothing. On average I get one out of two or three plates with a great result.

How long did it take to build and perfect the cave?

It took me about six to eight months to create.

How does the holography process work?

I take a piece of glass and coat it with a heavy metal like ammonium dichromate, in a gelatin, and once coated I let it age for five days. The glass plate is then exposed to laser light, over a 3D object or objects. Once exposed, it goes in development baths, like black and white film. I get a radiant, beautiful image.

Your works seem to resemble a spectrum of images, including the primordial, minerals, space, and even what you might expect to find under an electron microscope. Is there a preset vision or are you surprised at what comes out?

I am almost always surprised what comes out. My starting point is to try and get a significant amount of depth of imagery. From a technical standpoint, when I expose the plate with the film side up, when it’s developed the hologram will be below the plate. If it goes well, I will have imagery that is deep below the plate, so when you shine light on it, images can go down a foot.

If I turn the plate over and expose the film side down, the imagery will be coming up off the plate, and the same depth but above the plate. I will try to sometimes expose two plates and match them together, with a maximum amount of projection above and below the plate. People say, “Holy Smokes how do you do that? I’ve never seen that before!”

I then take the plate and mount it on a canvas or other substrate and augment it by painting, airbrush, and other techniques to add more color to the piece.

How did you select the three charities that you donate to? Is there a personal connection?

When I sold my company, my family set up a charitable foundation. We get together once a year and decide, and we try to be very thoughtful about how to pick charities that have significant influence. Rady is at the forefront of technology and helping children with coding genomes, so we are highly committed. Mercy Ships goes to underdeveloped countries, and there is incredible power in a ship coming in and thousands being served. The Gary Sinise Foundation supports our military, people who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and we feel incredibly blessed to be protected, and this is an important way to acknowledge that.

What do you hope people get from your work?

My goal as an artist is to create excitement and wonder when people look at the art. When someone comes in and says “That’s extraordinary,” that is gratifying to me. I want people to get that “wow” factor and sense of wonder, and that’s what keeps me going and creating.

To view Liguori’s work, visit tomliguori.com or stop in to Dimensions Gallery at 789 Harbor Dr. in downtown San Diego.

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