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Carole Caroompas

American, b. 1946

Before and After Frankenstein: The Woman Who Knew Too Much: The Power of Naming

Acrylic on canvas
120 x 90 in. (304.8 x 228.6 cm)
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein epitomized the dark romanticism lurking within the Enlightenment, but it later took on a life of its own, mutating and filling subsequent artworks with all manner of psychological debris. The unwieldy title of Carole Caroompas’s gigantic 1993 painting reflects the book’s role in a series of works that occupied the artist in the early 1990s.

These paintings, which deftly combine imagery from so-called high and low cultural sources, remind us of contemporaries as diverse as celebrated German painter Sigmar Polke and “lowbrow” image maker Robert Williams, with other influences ranging from the pattern and decoration movement to the “psychotronic” fringes of punk. Mashups of film stills, clip art, medical illustrations, and art history references are meticulously rendered in a lurid hypersaturated light.

The Power of Naming was precipitated by the artist’s chance viewing of the 1990 movie Frankenhooker, from which much of its imagery derives. A pop sense of mad science permeates the painting, from the shadowy lab equipment (is that happy couple posing with a “brain in a jar?”) to the clip art diagram detailing the behavioral conditioning of a sheep, to the tethered vagina dentata specimens that threaten to collapse the picture plane at any moment, should they cease screaming.

Taken individually or as a whole, the Frankenstein works can be understood as an elaborate postmodern narrative, delivering a complex symbolic wallop without allowing themselves to be defined by traditional linear storytelling or pictorialist conventions. The result here is a remarkable work that has a deep structural echo of its own subject matter—a dark and entertaining mystery that isn’t puzzling because there are pieces missing, but because the pieces never matched in the first place. And yet it’s alive! It’s alive!

Doug Harvey

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