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November 3 - December 22, 2007 at Western Projects, Culver City

by Marlena Donohue

Carol Caroompas has been working in a stroboscopic, image-dense and process-intense fashion for a long time. We saw it in the “Frankenstein” works. We saw it in the “Hester and Zorro” series, utterly ironic and at once utterly serious  images wherein the fallen adulteress from Hawthorne gives up female guilt, owns her libido and seeks a place far away with Zorro, a man of real action. . .who happens to be invented and never shows his face.

The half humorous and dead serious issues regarding female roles, the equal opportunity existential terror that grips both genders, lives lived through simulation and fantasy, pent up desire, our disembodied lives--all these recur as intonations more than subjects in the new series of canvases subtitled “Dancing with Misfits.”

More loosely related to a specific narrative than previously, the leitmotif of misfitting is addressed in the way Caroompas toys with our timeless and violent curiosity for all things freakish/aberrant/outside of us. This idea comes as non sequitur snippets from John Houston's film “The Misfits,” and via images of that quintessential Pop culture “other”--Sissy Spasik as the homicidal Carrie spurned on prom night. In one canvas Carrie is a B movie ghoul, in another hopeful and dreamy, set next to the hideously enticing Tiny Tim and his Miss Vicky.

If with Caroompas we know what to expect by now, what we never quite expect is to be continually surprised, entertained, titillated, visually and intellectually challenged each time we encounter a way of working only the most disciplined of artists would take on. I am not naively confusing proliferation of detailed realistic hand skill (which Caroompas has in excess) for quality--like some super-size-me gauge for art whereby more  means better. In fact, in fine art "more" can be dangerous, requiring a clearer conception from the onset, a serious rein over materials , and the intense discipline of knowing what goes into “more,” and what should indeed be left out (it’s harder than it looks--beginners should not try this at home). A veteran reader and thinker who pays dues with intense research and body-wracking hours in the studio, Caroompas pulls all this off. . .again.

"Dancing With Misfits: Eye-Dazzler:
An Eastern Western-Cowboy
Mummy," 2007, acrylic on found
embroidery over canvas, 63 x 40 1/2".

"Dancing With Misfits: Eye-Dazzler:
Damn Bull Had The Whole Milky
Way In That Hoof," 2007 acrylic on found
embroidery over canvas, 87 1/2 x 67".

"Dancing With Misfits: Eye-Dazzler:
Watch Out For Those Pretty Little Feet,
Dear”, 2006, acrylic on found
embroidery over canvas, 52 x 34

All the works here are acrylic and found embroidery on canvas, and all the complex scenes are bound up perceptually within intricate geometries grabbed from American Indian weaving. This is the dizzying experience of mass culture visualized par excellence. Caroompas appropriates images from film stills painted here to look like black and white TV on the fritz; she appliqués found needle work from junk stores, appropriates graphic looking references to fairy tales. Jack and Jill and the inevitable idea of water tumble, for example, into a complex composition that suggests the arid, macho deserts of the American West or Mid East; tiny stitched tea kettles dance and cavort out of nowhere in particular.

In “Dancing with Misfits: An Eastern Western Cowboy Mummy,” a Hollywood style 1920s Sheik of Arabia (Rudolph Valentino?) with a mustache straight from the Props Department collides amicably with the image of a rodeo cowboy--two equally mediated and highly politicized versions of “manhood.”

The attraction of Caroopmas’ work--in addition to formal diligence--is the way she can body forth that razor’s edge between increasing dispersion and some tenacious psychological and narrative return to die-hard  themes. These include our need for physical and existential mooring and the loss of same, captured here by a stitched Hansel and Gretel looking longingly at a wretched little cottage, or the funniest pink pigs painted to saunter under the rafters of an ambitious half-built suburban dwelling. Our seemingly endless reserve of sexual drive in all its untidy, deliciously dramatic, wet, wild, cheesy and poignant variations is suggested again and again: in embroidered vegetables who dance and couple; in a deftly painted macho cowboy rendered in the  stencil style of ads as he tosses his lasso across the canvas to rope round the neck, as if from another realm, a super-butch skater from 1950s “Roller Derby” TV lore.

Caroompas is able to recreate this state of awareness which, on the one hand taps totally familiar popular/collective and personal/psychic memory, and on the other stages these icons so that they fragment out in unpredictable permutations so complex that viewers have to work to sort it all out. This active participation reminds us that Caroompas was a performance artist and a musician, modes of communication where passive museum seeing simply does not work.

Irving Sandler wrote that the “new” post modern art had to echo the way we look at/experience contemporary life. He called this vernacular or engaged seeing, and contrasted  it with museum seeing, which we know can entail three disconnected minutes. Sandler could not have imagined current visual culture—a kind of looking on steroids. Awash as we are in visual stimulation, the flood of emotional, perceptual, cognitive, global info hitting us almost nonstop, it’s safe to say that the old hopeful habit of linear thought, tidy narratives in life and art that conclude predictably, of ordered inner worlds, has given rise to a rhizome model of experience. According to this model our interior and exterior worlds emanate from vague yet deeply rooted starting points, only to ricochet mosaic-like in hundreds of splintered ideas, actions, associations, memories, desires, etc. The way Caroompas can recreate that rhizome of our mental and social life while still sticking to rigorous rules of making art is quite compelling.