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ART REVIEWS : Caroompas' Paintings: Hallucinogens on Canvas


Carole Caroompas' jam-packed canvases have the hallucinatory power of dreams. All of the events that take place in their dense, haywire narratives seem to occur in an instant, then to reverberate in our memories. Even more than dreams, the fragmentary scenarios in her potent paintings continue to shift in significance, long after we've given up trying to determine their exact meaning.

At Rio Hondo College, four blaring, hyperactive paintings and five small graphite drawings from 1986-88 are meant to illuminate Caroompas' process of working. Although two pairs of black-and- white drawings reveal some of the compositional decisions that go into a finished image, the juxtaposition is not instructive.

Caroompas' colorful, rambunctious paintings stand or fall as completed pieces. They're compelling because they allow us to watch our own thought-processes in motion, putting together clues, following hunches and making mysterious, logic-defying associations.

Everything that is interesting about her art takes place after the overall image has made its impact on our perceptual machinery. We're left to make sense of metaphors that don't easily add up and symbols that simultaneously fulfill our expectations about relations between the sexes and resist these conventions. Caroompas is at her mischievous best when she concocts dramas that are at once gripping and slippery, immediately obvious and impossible to pin down.

* Rio Hondo College Art Gallery, 3600 Workman Mill Road, Whittier, (310) 692-0921 through Sept. 23. Closed Sundays.

Exercising: In her first solo show, Karen Roarke suspends organic-colored pigments in thin layers of wax to make abstract paintings that seem to be lit from behind. Competent and promising, they nevertheless have the presence of exercises--of works in search of a subject equal to the artist's skills with her materials.

Hundreds of oval rings, water droplets, finger smudges and flame-like shapes cover the delicate surfaces of Roarke's paintings at Ruth Bachofner Gallery. Each handmade form occupies its own little space, neither overlapping nor abutting another. Together, they lock into structures that combine the solidity of grids with the fluidity of viscous liquids.

Roarke augments this dual character by playing up the contrasts between light and shadow. She often creates the illusion that her canvases are wavy fragments of velvet curtains or swollen sections of wind-blown fabric. Their scale is also indeterminate. You're never sure if you're looking at something the size of a blood corpuscle or a shooting star.

These ambiguities can be sources of painterly significance, but suggest, in Roarke's case, that she is still developing as an artist. Her paintings too strongly resemble overcrowded Ross Bleckners or earthy Peter Schuyffs to have come into their own.

* Ruth Bachofner Gallery, 926 Colorado Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 458-8007, through Sept. 25. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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