LA artist Carole Caroompas, performer and painter who defied convention, dies at 76

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For memory:
11:26 am August 5, 2022: A previous version of this article incorrectly cited the artist as Phyllis Rose, and that Gustave Courbet’s work is titled “The Origin of the Universe.” It has been edited to state that her name is Phyllis Green and the work is called “The Origin of the World” respectively.

The artist Carole Caroompas. (By John Caroompas)

Los Angeles artist Carole Caroompas, whose intricate paintings and performances avidly draw inspiration from pop culture and literature, died July 31 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. She was 76 years old.

Caroompas’ large, carefully planned paintings riffed on film, music, literature and current affairs. They resembled tapestries in their detail but cut, parodied gender norms and delved into art history – like the time she reimagined Gustave Courbet’s famous ‘The Origin of the World’, depicting her own female nude reclining as giving birth to a soccer ball fully in uniform. player.

When working in her studio, Caroompas didn’t care where her art might end up. “I’ve never made art for performances; I’ve always done art,” she said in a 1989 interview, adding that she believes artists have a higher and more interesting calling than taking career steps. They were “supposed to attack the senses or change the world”.

His work came before many other things in his life. “Art has always been his No. 1 goal,” said his brother, John Caroompas. “She didn’t talk about doing anything other than working on her artwork,” recalls her friend, artist Phyllis Green. “She was still working,” said artist Vincent Ramos, one of her former students who also spent a decade working as a studio assistant.

As an artist working for over 50 years, Caroompas’ imagery and performance art have intersected and informed multiple important 20th century movements: feminist art, pop, pattern and decoration, image generation. Artist and gallerist Cliff Benjamin, who met Caroompas in the 1980s and later showed her work at his Western Project gallery, found it mystifying that she remained less famous than many of her peers, including Mike Kelley, Chris Burden and Lari Pittman. The decades she spent mentoring the young artists she taught at Immaculate Heart College, Cal State Northridge, and the Otis College of Art and Design only made the limits of her success greater. disconcerting. “She was so influential to legions of kids in art school, legions who were so loyal to her because Carole gave them the real deal,” Benjamin said. “She didn’t flatter. She told them the truth.

black and white portrait of a young girl

A portrait of Carole Caroompas as a child. (John Caroompas)

Caroompas was born in Oregon City, Oregon, in 1946. She was 8 when her family moved to Southern California, first to San Diego and then to Newport Beach, where her father practiced as a chiropractor and her mother worked. in his office. . Caroompas spent her years at Newport Beach High attending surf-rock shows at the Rendezvous Ballroom, then enrolled at Orange Coast College. She took her first art classes there and enjoyed them, but she still chose to major in English when she transferred to Cal State Fullerton.

By the time she graduated from college in 1968, she had seen her first major museum exhibit—an exhibition of paintings by Henri Matisse at LACMA—and knew she wanted to make art. Her parents found her choice alarming, although they remained supportive, attending her overtures throughout their lives (her father, John, died in 1985, while her mother, Dorothy, died in 2002).

Caroompas’ brother John, 11 years her junior, recalls driving for the opening of a group exhibit she was attending, “24 From Los Angeles: New Work by Emerging Artists” at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery on October 30, 1974, the night Muhammad Ali fought George Foreman. He and his father kept apologizing to check the progress of the fight on the car radio. Caroompas’ mother, Dorothy, even posed for a portrait by artist Don Bachardy, known for his ruthless portrayals of the city’s creative class. Caroompas kept the portrait hanging next to the entrance to his studio.

After college, she enrolled in an MFA program at USC. There, her classmates were mostly men, including artist Paul McCarthy. “I had to live up to certain male standards of what ‘serious’ art was,” she told the LA Times in 1999. Yet as soon as she graduated in 1971, she was drawn into the growing feminist art movement. She joined an advocacy group with Judy Chicago, Miriam Schapiro and Karen Carson, and served on the board of directors of the Womanspace cooperative gallery, which opened in 1973. Even in feminist circles, she did not feel completely in its place. At the time, she would drip paint, climb a ladder, quickly throw paint grids at a wall, then drop the paint onto a piece of glass below. “They said my work was too formal and not feminine enough,” Caroompas told the LA Times in 1997.

Artist Mary Anna Pomonis, friends with Caroompas since the late 1990s, had a different view. “Judy [Chicago] was about creating our own power structures as women and not relying on men for help. Carole was more like, “Well, maybe if we walk into the room, we can open the door a little wider and let more people in,” Pomonis said. “Rather than trying to burn it, I think she laughed it off, teased it.”

A black and white photo of a woman wearing tall black boots, jeans and a T-shirt, standing outdoors near a low railing.

Carole Caroompas poses for a photo. (John Caroompas)

By the mid-1970s, Caroompas had begun to incorporate more typically feminine materials into her work, still doing grids but with sequins, thread and fabric. Then she completely abandoned abstraction, turning to collage while fully embracing pop culture – and comedy. For “Remembrance of Things Past: May” (1976), a dry parody of dating conventions, she lined a piece of paper with gold and black cord and combined slightly tearful images of a solitary high heel and an empty chair with a cursive text, describing a stand-up: “I waited at the bar until 6:30. I had two drinks and a coffee. I thought you weren’t coming.

For her performance “Target Practice” in 1981, she took on the role of a lecturer exploring archery as an ancient metaphor for desire. Throughout the performance, she would occasionally break into songs she had composed, including “Bedroom Eyes”, a tongue-in-cheek folk song about a “strong man” supported by a woman with a “heart of bronze”. She wore black leggings and alligator boots for the performance.

Green noticed Caroompas’ style long before they became friends. Green was at a grand opening at the Newport Harbor Art Museum and saw “this glamorous girl over there in a purple dress, and I thought, ‘Wow, who is that? in the 1980s, it was no longer Caroompas’ aesthetics that impressed Green, but rather his work.

Caroompas had moved on to making epic paintings. She still incorporated found images but no longer pasted them into her work. Instead, she collected, researched her sources, and then painted large-scale scenes that overtly referenced pop and media culture while frequently exploring ancient and iconic literature. In her “Fairy Tales” series, she reimagines “Beauty and the Beast” (1989) as a suburban landscape punctuated with wild animals and caged businessmen. She lined the entire scene with black and white male and female figures engaged in a tantric orgy.

These paintings could be a painstaking process. “She invented ways of working that weren’t necessarily the most practical,” said artist Roy Dowell, her friend and colleague at Otis College of Art and Design, where Dowell founded the curriculum. graduates and Caroompas taught from the mid-1980s until early 2020.

Two young women pose for a photo.

Artist Alexis Smith, left, with Carole Caroompas. (John Caroompas)

Although she exhibited her work continuously from the 1970s, she did so primarily in Southern California, with notable group exhibitions at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in DC and the Whitney and Museum of Modern. Art in New York. According to curator Michael Duncan, who included Caroompas in his 2012 exhibition of Los Angeles figuration, “LA Raw,” at the now-closed Pasadena Museum of California Art, “She was one of the most important artists of the moment and has always been underestimated and always a little difficult to attract attention because of the hardness of her work.” She was overlooked in the “Helter Skelter” exhibition – an iconic exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 1992 that was widely credited with bringing international attention to a generation of Los Angeles artists exploring evil, alienation and pop culture – “and there’s hardly any other Los Angeles artist who fits the parameters of this show so well.”

“Like a lot of women in California, she was considered kind of a local and I don’t think she was content with desserts,” Green said. “She had a real no-prisoners attitude to her artwork and her whole lifestyle.”

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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