Art in America, Deborah Oropallo's Atypical Archetypes, by Cherie Turner, 4/2011
Deborah Oropallo's "Tale Spin" at Gallery 16 in San Francisco is a big, bold show of female fairy-tale characters and other alluring archetypes—Snow White, Goldie Locks, the French maid and the Catholic schoolgirl, among others. Each of these collaged pieces amounts to an almost life-size full figure or portrait, comprising layered pieces of sheer material, each with a part of a figure printed on it. The figure is made up of about 10 sourced images, sourced from costume websites, which are assembled and mounted on paper to form a single woman. Gas masks and bondage accessories also appear-these are characters facing today's world.
The 56-year-old, Berkeley-based Oropallo addresses each new body of work, as a series, distinctly different from previous work. "It's not just searching for the new; it's building on the old," Oropallo toldA.i.A. during a recent tour of her show. "As a painter you are painting on the shoulders of everyone who came before you, and all of the work you have seen and made in the past 30 years—that's in every piece."
In 2009, she made the "Wild Wild West.Show," an exploration of cowgirl imagery. The 2008 "Guise" series, featured in a solo exhibition at San Francisco's de Young Museum, comprised prints that melded 17th- and 18th-century male portraits with images of women modeling lingerie.
In this latest work, Oropallo deftly updates age-old tales, a theme Oropallo has treated previously. The "Guise" series demonstrates the similarities in poses between her subjects, begging questions about portrayal of power and how it differs between the sexes. Fortified(2011) shows an adult Rapunzel. With her braided hair tied like a rope-ladder down the front of her body andshiny black gloved arms encircling her head, this modern woman is going to protect and save herself.
Uniforms and costumes are deployed for their relationships to gender and power. The interest stems from Oropallo's childhood, she explained, including memories of her uncle's grand presence in full Navy garb, as well as her experience wearing the traditional blue-and-green uniform to Catholic school for years.
Oropallo grew up in Hackensack, New Jersey, and started making art at a young age. But it wasn't until she started the fine art graduate school program at UC Berkeley, where she earned her MFA, that she got her first formal art training, studying under esteemed Bay Area Figurative painter Elmer Bischoff. Shades of those early self-teaching, however, continue to be visible in her work today.
"I actually think of paint-by-numbers paintings as the original conceptual paintings... They have a prescribed beginning and end," said Oropallo in an interview for her 2001 midcareer retrospective at the San Jose Museum of Art. "This has been in my work since I was a kid. I copied things out of how-to books, always using this type of methodology."
Oropallo's work is structured according to a modular, graphic, Pop ethic. She used to often work with silk-screened images or patterns, all sourced from photographs. For the 2003 series "Replica," she arranged repeating depictions of duck figurines for Spill, a toy suburban tract house for Free House. For Oropallo's 2005 "Stretch" pieces, she digitally pushed, pulled, and stretched, images to the verge of being unrecognizable. What remained was their contemporaneity.
Berkeleyside, Deborah Oropallo explores the dark side of fairy tales, by Tracey Taylor, 3/2011
Deborah Oropallo has been fascinated with dress-up costumes for a while. The type adults order online, as opposed to the kids’ variety. French maid and nurses’ uniforms, Little Bo Peep get-ups and frilly princess dresses informed the pieces she created for her previous body of work, and they reappear in “Tale Spin”, her new exhibition which opened on Friday at Gallery 16 at 501 Third Street in San Francisco.
This time, the theme is fairy tales and Lolita says Oropallo, who has lived and worked in West Berkeley for the past 30 years. “There is always a very subversive edge to fairy tales,” she says. “And girls are always the victims.” As she writes in the exhibition catalog: “Fairy tales were morality plays meant to scare girls into being good. In that tradition, these paintings are cautionary tales; meant to be dark, fractured, edgy, sexy, and funny. Dangerous and wicked, the girls have turned into women, in a post feminist age… and the wolf is on the run.”
But there’s a lighter side to the work too. “I’m also making fun of these costumes,” Oropallo says. “I didn’t grow up with Grimm fairytles, so in a way I’m creating a Looney Tunes version of them.”
Gallery 16, which is a press as well as a gallery, was founded by painter Griff Williams, also a Berkeleyan. In the same style as a traditional press, artists are invited to work there with digital media and a variety of large scale printers.
Oropallo says she used chiffon, silk and several different rag papers for the new pieces, in an effort to ensure the pieces were not flat. For the same reason, the pieces are not presented under glass.
“Tale Spin” runs through April 30, and mid-way through the exhibition, on April 7, there will be a performance by Fauxnique, followed by an informal dialogue with San Francisco writer and critic Glen Helfand.