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Lori Larusso: The Whole and the Small

By Blake de Pastino | Posted 5/4/2005

Snark and self-regard are in long supply at School 33, where the work of four emerging artists—mostly from MICA—is on view in a suite of separate shows. There’s a fair amount of autobiographical noodling and pop culture name-checking going on here, but among the hip peevishness, the paintings of Lori Larusso make themselves known for their particularly delicious brand of petulance.

Except for her largest canvases, most of the paintings here are of food—itself an exhausted topic—but Larusso executes her platters of sweets and snack plates with chilly irony, stylizing her dishes into bastardized packaged-food graphics and rendering them with Technicolor acrylic paint, in all of its bloodless, commercial flatness. The end effect is that of Pop Art’s bitchy tween stepdaughter.

The bitterness is only hinted at in “Prettygirl,” an outsized portrait of a strawberry shortcake dessert, piled preciously under the scalloped edge of a candy-store awning, the whole scene portrayed in sick, sticky-sweet pinks and mauves. Her confections become props in an acerbic countertop drama in “Still Missing,” a horizontal field of dead-flat blue across which parades a line of lacy plates of cream-dolloped brownies, though there’s an empty space where one plate should be, and another is conspicuously missing one of its treats.

Food as commentary goes back at least as far as James Rosenquist’s viscous spaghetti-pop, though, which is why Larusso’s aesthetic of excess seems freshest in her two large-scale depictions of strip malls on fire. With a precision that borders on delight, “The System” presents a generic big-box store, all pointless porticoes and pitched roofs done up in blasé shades of white and gray. Parking lot lines in front lend some dimension to the jet-black asphalt that stretches clear to the horizon, where the tarred earth bleeds into dark plumes of smoke that billow from the building. Stylized flames of red, orange, and rust lick out of the roof and front entrance, notably absent of people. And in the updraft overhead float eight white shopping bags, each stenciled with the familiar repeating thank you graphic. Who knows if there are any survivors, “The System” suggests—at least the trash was able to escape.

Her appetite for destruction still not sated, Larusso revisits the same scene in “The System 2,” this time as seen from asphalt level. Here, the blaze rages far on the horizon, at the other end of an unholy ocean of blacktop. As the everystore burns to ashes in the background, at the bottom of the frame sits a small, flat gift box wrapped in a red bow. Schadenfreude, like well-phrased cynicism, pleases best in small packages.

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The Simple Life (2/2/2005)
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