A portrait can reveal, and often has a duty to reveal, far more than simply a person’s likeness. Whereas the person-subject will merely live and die, a portrait in many respects is immortal, forever a reminiscent symbol of the this person-subject’s accomplishments, achievements, and their lasting significance. Even further in this regard portraiture can also reveal much about what is valued by the society in which they live, and the acceptable roles and culture norms prevalent in that society. Deborah Oropallo’s current solo exhibition, “Bell the Cat” now on view at Catharine Clark gallery is a continuation of the artist’s Guise series wherein she investigates the convoluted legacies of portraiture, particularly focusing on the power they aim to portray, the gender roles to which they give illustration, and to what degree they sustain in contemporary culture. In “Bell the Cat,” Oropallo focuses on the ubiquitous fairytale, specifically Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood, as that which shapes foundational perspectives of “femininity” and introducing gender roles in Western culture that will continue to influence. Oropallo also makes the “Bell the Cat” an opportunity to explore how these perspectives engrained since childhood might have shaped the contemporary socio-political climate.
The inclusion of some works that are not entirely of subject matter found in fairy tales make the exhibition a powerful blend of what we are made to think and the effects of those foundational, at times outmoded ways of thinking. One of Oropallo’s works, .45, links together both the historically important .45 automatic Colt pistol, evoking themes of violence and anguish, and the forthcoming 45th president, Donald Trump, whose election and proposed public policy and administration has deeply divided the country and caused an uncertain future and great concern globally and within the United States. This work, as well as Rigged (one of Trump’s frequently-used words during and recently after the election), and Naval Destroyer (perhaps a clever double entendre at work) in juxtaposition with the images of Snow White and other fairytale characters at times seem deeply contrasted, until other works bridge that gap including Moral Fiber and American Puppet, which both include a Pinocchio-like character — which may allude again to Trump’s alleged half-truths or outright lies throughout the general election campaign. Maintaining women’s rights and other generally progressive causes related to women, like reproductive rights, have become uncertain and of further concern with the Trump administration.
The exhibition’s indirect references to where the pervading ideas of feminism originate through fairy tale characters contrasted and complemented with more contemporary real life issues make the exhibition take on a satisfyingly comprehensive but no less seriously disconcerting exploration. Additionally, the exhibition will also include Oropallo’s first video work, “White as Snow,” which adds an intriguing layer to the works on view in the galleries.
Deborah Oropallo, “Bell the Cat” will be on view through February 18th at Catharine Clark Gallery 248 Utah Street, San Francisco.