Los Angeles

Carole Caroompas

Sue Spaid Gallery

Carole Caroompas paints with a vengeance, producing enormous seminarrative canvases with a cheeky disregard for what artists—especially feminist artists—are “supposed” to be doing in the ’90s. Not a single piece of fur, not a single body part, no installation objects, nothing but acrylic paint on rectangular pieces of canvas, yet these large-format paintings are anything but conventional.

Since her emergence within the feminist art community in Los Angeles in the ’70s, Caroompas has developed an individual yet recognizably Angeleno style: with minimal brushstroke texture she renders repetitive patterns associated with upholstery or interior decor in bright Day-Glo colors. Merging Pop’s interest in the rendition of the vernacular with the ornamental pizzazz of feminist Pattern and Decoration, the flat surfaces of her paintings are inscrutable yet clearly erotic.

While Caroompas’ earlier work tended to suggest explicit narratives, the “Before and After Frankenstein” series, 1993–94, is at once simpler and more oblique. Each of the four medium-sized Spectre and Emanation paintings is comprised of three distinct layers: the ground is created from repetitive patterns that resemble Japanese wrapping paper; the middle layer shows a scrim of figures repeated in symmetrical rows engaged in bizarre sexual acts (a Victorian couple with their genitals exposed, for example, or a man hewing his own enormous penis from a block of marble extending from his torso); and in the foreground, a centrally placed image depicts figures engaged in enigmatic activities—a man and woman, their backs turned, or the upside-down head of a woman covering her eyes with her hands. Two-dimensionally rendered in bubbly webs of paint, these transcriptions of remembered relationships read as puzzling glimpses into tangled stories. Are we looking into some window or are these tantalizing, enervated, yet blank emotional scenes nothing more than surface?

Caroompas’ monumental painting The Power of Naming, 1993, dramatically addresses the confusing, violent compression of sexual and bodily experience in post-Modern culture. Framed within a trompe l’oeil ring of thigh bones, four pink mouths gape horrifyingly; a group of women appears to be cutting into a human brain or a cabbage; another woman stands, her breasts jutting provocatively, her mouth agape; in silhouette, a donkey sustains a huge erection. A layer of mottled paint covers the background palimpsest of images like a thin sheen of vomit.

While Caroompas’ technique––combining narrative elements from seemingly disconnected sites of post-Modern experience—is perhaps distantly similar to that adopted by her contemporaries David Salle and Lari Pittman, the visual elements Caroompas appropriates are presented within a particular politicized framework. Thus, while Salle’s blank refusal of responsibility continues to reinforce the violence of patriarchal culture, in The Power of Naming, Caroompas enables the images she appropriates: the chesty star of a misogynist B-film is made the protagonist and her brain-splitting sisters violently subvert the system of privilege by which men are defined as “thinking,” and women as passively “emotional.”

Caroompas sees painting for what it can be: a means of disconnecting figuration from traditional narrative while simultaneously refusing the deviously reactionary esthetics of formalism, Expressionism, or Salle-esque post-Modernism.

Amelia Jones