The Euclidian fields of geometry seem to go all soft, fuzzy and eccentric in Alexandra Roussopoulos’s shaped canvases. Their forms are familiar, but their facture does not feel absolute or predetermined. Her paintings aren’t so clean and finicky. We are not dealing here with Los Angeles Fetish Finish of the 1960s and ‘70s, though those lacquered and plexiglas forms are certainly alluded to. The artist is explicit on this point: “I like them a little dirty,” she says. “I want them to be like skin. I have no desire for perfection.”
Roussopoulos’s “Flaque,” “Anguleuse,” and “Euclidienne” are floating abstractions she begins with fluorescent acrylics and gradually paints down to pale, shimmery tones best seen in daylight. Their stretchers are cobbled together with bits of cast-off wood, and their undersides, and edges, are thick with layers of paint. Their heavy physicality makes their illusionism – of emptying out, of nothingness – that much more tangible. (Photographic details of the “Flaque” suggest human bodies – scrunched together at some early ‘70s love-in or avant-garde theater workshop.)
Geometry and feminism, biomorphism and automatism freely intermingle in her art. Roussopoulos makes sensitive and humorous use of readymades – the traced outline of a plastic cord used to attach scissors to packaging is one of her best shapes, like a flying saucer. Her biomorphic cutouts of brightly colored foam and girlish plastic notebook covers (the metallic Op pattern looks to be a high-school fave) bespeak a calm, yet intense collagist.
Roussopoulos is a child of ’68 (born in 1969) – one of those children of the counterculture who had a rarefied view of the situation. Her parents were a golden couple of the Parisian avant-garde: the Swiss-born Carole Roussopoulos a well-known feminist filmmaker and social activist; the Greek-born Paul Roussopoulos an activist as well as a physicist, painter and maker of architectonic kites. (I once saw these kites, which have never been exhibited, in a bedroom in the family’s house on the Greek island of Spetses. They were beautiful, lucid things.)
Alexandra grew up with her parents and brother Geronimo in a open-plan modernist house in the 14th, where she still lives and works, now with her own two teenage daughters and their father, the British-born artist Martin McNulty. Memories of Carole Roussopoulos’s feminist collective “Les Insoumuses” are palpable in the house, particularly on this 40th anniversary of May ’68, and Alexandra says she found the mood of those ‘70s women’s barn-storming collaborations “joyous and optimistic.”
Utopian space is everywhere apparent in her art. The “Espaces Inventés” depict walls and floors floating disembodied: no windows, ceilings, doors, only the occasional pillar. To me, they don’t suggest ideal art galleries as much as tactile spaces for babies to crawl around in. In these child-proofed zones, the illustrated versions of Roussopoulos’s reliefs are like big eyes -- omniscient presences presiding over the safe emptiness.
These quizzical drawings – at once autonomous and illustrational -- remind me of Blinky Palermo’s carefully ruled yet lushly colored diagrams for his wall paintings, a body of work Roussopoulos says she “adores.” Palermo’s wall drawings and fabric paintings, in their site-specific relation to architecture and their fragmentary, laid-back look, are more than ever having a seismic effect on younger artists, especially painters.
Roussopoulos’s “Eaux Mouvantes” -- decoupages of painted canvas -- are resilient, floppy items (no delicate butterflies these) that can be adhered to wall or floor. In a studio visit, she scatters them, then gathers them up nonchalantly. (She likes to put her art in a single suitcase when she travels.) I sense a renewed fascination with ‘60s and ‘70s Process Art: the fragile wall reliefs of Richard Tuttle; the scrappy, biomorphic still-life paintings of Elizabeth Murray; the floor-hugging, polyurethane foam “spill” sculptures of Lynda Benglis -- all come to mind as precedents for Roussopoulos’s “rad” flexibility.
The notebooks are private fields where public armies of abstract shape coalesce. In Frontiere (2006), myriad outlines of France jostle for position in a tight frame. (Roussopoulos has taught art at a progressive primary school in the boho-intello 14th for many years.) This drawing recalls a classroom exercise in which the kids are made to rethink the notion of borders, national and otherwise.
Even her titles are loaded. “C’est quoi l’histoire?” sounds harmless enough, but it’s a killer to answer. “Anguleuse” is a pun on “engueuleuse” -- an ironic take on the angry, shrewish stereotypes of the women in the ‘70s Insoumuses. The “Euclidienne” conjure up a group of radical female geometers from the 1790s – French Revolutionary syntheses of the artist’s mother and father principles.
From Claude-Nicholas Ledoux to Tatiana Trouve, French art has flirted with a dream of functional geometry -- pyramids with belching smokestacks, glossy trapezoids with electric cords dangling. Alexandra Roussopoulos’s art is part of this tradition, though it shuns the more dystopian aspects of revolution. The liberation movements of her childhood are still fresh in an art that she sees as intrinsically “female.”
Her “Flaque” remind me of a fragment of my own American art-historical childhood: a huge field painting by Georgia O’Keeffe, Sky Above Clouds IV (1965). her largest painting ever, a painting so big in fact (243.8 by 731.5 cm) that they couldn’t get it out of the Art Institute of Chicago in the ‘60s, back when I was growing up there in the suburbs, and so it remains there (finally acquired by the museum in 1983). Roussopoulos’s “Flaque” don’t have this constraint of size, but they are as dreamy as O’Keeffe’s enormous horizontal painting, with its minutely gradated recession of row upon row of blank white shapes retreating towards a impossibly high, and rainbow-tinted horizon. Brooks Adams - All quotations are from conversations with the artist in March-May 2008.