Los Angeles artist Carole Carompas, whose intricate paintings and performances greedily drew on pop culture and literature, died July 31 of Alzheimer’s disease. She was 76.
Carompas’ large, carefully planned paintings related to film, music, literature and current events. Tapestry-like but cutting edge in their detail, they parodied gender norms and poked around at art history—as they did when she reinterpreted Gustave Courbet’s famous The Origin of the Universe and depicted her own female nude as the birth of a fully-uniformed soccer player.
Working in her studio, Carompas gave no thought to where her art might end up. “I’ve never made art for shows; I’ve only ever made art,” she said in one Interview 1989, adding that she thought artists had a higher and more interesting calling than reaching career milestones. They were meant to “assault the senses or change the world”.
Her work came before many other things in her life. “Art was always her main focus,” said her brother John Carompas. “She didn’t talk about doing much other than working on her artwork,” recalled her artist friend Phyllis Rose. “She was always working,” said artist Vincent Ramos, one of her former students who also worked as her studio assistant for a decade.
In more than 50 years as a working artist, Carompas’ visual language and performance art crossed and shaped several major movements of the 20th century: feminist art, pop, pattern and decoration, the pictorial generation. Artist and gallery owner Cliff Benjamin, who met Carompas in the 1980s and later showed her work at his Western Project gallery, found it puzzling 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 Otis College of Art and Design only made the frontiers of her success even more bewildering. “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 help. She told them the truth.”
Carompas was born in 1946 in Oregon City, Oregon. She was 8 years old 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. Carompas spent her years in Newport Beach attending surf rock shows at the Rendezvous Ballroom, then enrolled at Orange Coast College. She took her first art class there and enjoyed it, 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 show—an exhibition of paintings by Henri Matisse at LACMA—and knew she wanted to make art. Her parents found her choice alarming, despite supporting her throughout her life and attending her openings (her father, John, died in 1985, while her mother, Dorothy, died in 2002).
Carompas’ brother John, 11 years her junior, recalls driving up to the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery on October 30, 1974 for the opening of a group show, 24 from Los Angeles: New Work by Emerging Artists, in which she participated . the night Muhammad Ali fought George Foreman. He and his father kept apologizing to check the progress of the fight on the car radio. Carompas’ mother, Dorothy, even sat for a portrait by artist Don Bachardy, known for his ruthless depictions of the city’s creative class. Carompas left the portrait next to the entrance to her studio.
After college, she enrolled in an MFA program at USC. There, her classmates were mostly men, among them the artist Paul McCarthy. “I had to meet certain male standards for what ‘serious’ art is,” she told the LA Times in 1999. But as soon as she graduated in 1971, she was drawn into the burgeoning feminist art movement. She joined an awareness-raising group with Judy Chicago, Miriam Schapiro, and Karen Carson, and served on the board of the cooperative gallery Womanspace, which opened in 1973. Even in feminist circles, she didn’t quite feel like she belonged. Back then, she would drip paint, climb a ladder, squirt quick grids of paint onto a wall, and then drip the paint onto a piece of glass below. “They said my work was too formal and not feminine enough,” Carompas told the LA Times in 1997.
Artist Mary Anna Pomonis, who has been friends with Carompas since the late 1990s, had a different perspective. “Judy [Chicago] talked about creating our own power structures as women and not relying on men for help. Carole was more like, ‘Well, maybe when we get into the room, we can swing the door open a little more and then let more people in,'” Pomonis said. “Rather than trying to burn it down, I think she made fun of it, teased it.”
By the mid-1970s, Carompas had begun incorporating typically feminine materials into her work, still making lattices but with glitter, threads and fabrics. She then abandoned abstraction altogether and turned to collage while embracing pop culture — and comedy — wholeheartedly. For “Remembrance of Things Past: May” (1976), a wry spoof of dating conventions, she lined a piece of paper with gold and black cord and paired slightly maudlin images of a lonely high heel and an empty chair with italicized text, the description said a stand-up: “I waited in the bar until 6:30 a.m. I had two drinks and a coffee. I thought you weren’t coming.”
For her 1981 performance Target Practice, she took on the role of a lecturer exploring archery as an ancient metaphor for desire. During the performance, she would occasionally interrupt songs she had composed, including “Bedroom Eyes,” a tongue-in-cheek folk song about a “strong man” picked up by a woman with a “heart of bronze.” She wore black leggings and alligator boots for the performance.
Rose noticed Carompa’s style long before they became friends. Rose was at an opening at the Newport Harbor Art Museum and saw “this glamorous babe over there in a purple dress, and I was like, ‘Wow, who is that?'” Later, when they both started, at the Jan Baum Gallery in La Brea In the 1980s, it was no longer Carompa’s aesthetics that impressed Rose, but the work.
Carroompas had moved on to painting epic paintings. She incorporated found images, but no longer collaged them into her work. Instead, she collected, researched her source material, and then painted large-scale scenes that openly referenced pop and media culture, while often sifting through ancient, iconic literature. In her series Fairy Tales, she reimagined Beauty and the Beast (1989) as a suburban landscape punctuated by wild animals and caged businessmen orgy.
These paintings could be a tedious process. “She invented ways of working that weren’t necessarily the most practical,” said artist Roy Dowell, her friend and colleague at Otis College or Art and Design, where Dowell founded the graduate program and taught Carompas from the mid-1980s to early 2020.
While she has continuously exhibited her work since the 1970s, she has done so primarily in Southern California, with notable group shows at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in DC and the Whitney and MoMA in New York. According to curator Michael Duncan, who included Carompas in his 2012 exhibition “LA Raw” on figuration in Los Angeles at the now closed Pasadena Museum of California Art, “She was one of the most important artists and has always been underestimated and because of the harshness of her work she has.” always kind of trouble getting attention.” She was overlooked in the “Helter Skelter” show — an iconic show at MOCA Los Angeles in 1992 that is widely credited to a generation of Los Angeles artists who explored perversity, Tackling alienation and pop culture, garnering international attention – “and there are few other LA artists who fit 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 got her dessert just,” Rose said. “She had a real, no-prisoner attitude about her art and her entire lifestyle.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-08-04/l-a-artist-carole-caroompas-a-painter-of-grand-and-subversive-work-dies-at-76 L.A. artist and performer Carole Caroompas dies at 76