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[whitespace] Tire Bubbles Tire Bubbles: 'Inflated,' 1998, oil on canvas, 100 inches x 76 inches.


Visualizing the Ordinary

'How-To: The Paintings of Deborah Oropallo' speaks to the wonder of the everyday

By Christina Waters

A SUBSTANTIAL NEW show unveiled recently at the San Jose Museum of Art showcases the evocative eye of painter/conceptualist Deborah Oropallo. "How-To: The Paintings of Deborah Oropallo" offers a midcareer survey of 50 artworks spanning more than 20 years in the creative life of this influential Bay Area artist.

Oropallo's work questions the depths of the everyday, as if asking the familiar to stop pretending and uncloak its hidden secrets. The past threads through her entire body of work, scrapbook-fashion, in terms of bleed-through repetitions suggesting the patina of time, the uncertainty of memory.

Oropallo's most visually arresting pieces are her very recent work in which painting has given way to oversized digital inquiry, and Iris prints on canvas are silk-screened with sampled images of screen, wire and lace.

These enormous works saturated with intense primary colors manage to exist both as manipulated surfaces--Oropallo hand-silk-screens overlays of texture onto the oil-infused canvas--and as individual objects. The new pieces reveal the aesthetic dignity of the everyday in almost hypnotic ways. Oil drums, structural pipe, warehouse pallets, gas canisters and empty pails all take on epic proportions in these nonironic glimpses of grace in the very humble and the very simple. Some are huge creations. The show's centerpiece, Blue Palette, is a stunning 137 inches x 68 inches. Others are surprisingly delicate and accessibly scaled. A beauty entitled Whitework intrigues us with its skillful composition in which black lace has been screened over an Iris print of white industrial pipes.

In another new work, Oversize, towering orange oil barrels have been overlaid with plastic wrap and white screening (silk-screened screen patterns might be the closest to postmodern irony the artist's new work comes). In this unexpected presentation, the oil drums loom as monumental as the columns of the Parthenon. Pushed to the point of pixel breakdown, the large digital prints seem to throb and hum with electronic realms unseen--detectable, though not visible.

Oropallo's work calmly engages the interior aesthetic of daily existence. The inhale of time issues in the exhale of memory. The artist's own unsentimentalized nostalgia for the memories held by mundane objects scents many of the earlier works in the show. At times, that symbolism becomes mythic, as in Flat Loop, where a coil of red braided rope stands for all of life's cyclical realities. Some of Oropallo's later, large-scale pieces may be seen as industrial-sized domestic landscapes. In one a household iron has pressed itself upon the canvas as "petals" of a faded flower. In another, bobby pins proliferate, filling the space with urgent redundancy.

Earlier pieces bear the stamp of a conceptual agenda, as in Little Red Riding Hood, in which blood red paint streams over and under cut-out paper dolls clipped from newspaper stories of child abuse. Sensually painted works from the '80s remind the viewer of Oropallo's confident interweaving of such low art subject matter as children's games, fairy tales and schoolyard toys with conceptual wordplay and multiple imagery.

The multiple impressions--usually painted over and over--which form Oropallo's primary artistic device allow her to work in temporal as well as spatial dimensions. And, most intriguingly, her layering of applied patterns upon massive photo imagery creates an engaging "flicker" between the flat manipulated surface and the digitally represented image. She has fused the installation and the flat canvas into a 21st-century image bite. As How-To abundantly reveals, the artist is able to do this as often as she likes, inviting us to join her in an open-ended future of a not-yet-created past.


How-To: The Paintings of Deborah Oropallo runs through Feb. 10, 2002. San Jose Museum of Art, 110 S. Market St, San Jose; 408.294.2787. Open Tuesday- Sunday, 11am to 5pm; Friday, 11am to 10pm.

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From the October 25-31, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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