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Sunglasses are a signifier of coolness. Recently, Tobias Spichtig used them in paintings to communicate a coolness both raw and aloof, like Richard Hell in the heyday of punk. Prior to Spichtig, Alex Israel produced seemingly hundreds of slick self-portraits of him donning high-end shades, like a John Hughes jock. In The Ideal Room, Paul Rouphail’s second exhibition at Smart Objects, the artist uses the frames of sunglasses in a way that shifts the conversation by propounding that maybe coolness can be anxious and neurotic, like Larry David, while simultaneously reminding folks that we live in the real world and we ought to try to be real people (preferably not jerks).
Three of the trompe-l’oeil paintings in Rouphail’s exhibition use half of an oversized pair of sunglasses as their frame. Among these is Tearjerker (all works 2018), a bird’s-eye view of a financial magazine, a wrist watch, two chicken breasts, a used condom, cocktail garnishes, and squirted ketchup arranged on a kitchen counter, all of which come together to illustrate a smiley face. It’s a perverse composition—full of unfounded hope and dark humor—that basically looks like what Blink-182 might sound like had its members gone to grad school and accumulated knowledge while accruing debt. Hot Room—not sunglass-shaped, and one of the larger pictures on view—is a still life in a domestic interior, littered with partially-guzzled uppers and downers; a Payday wrapper; and some cigarettes performing a stitled form of gymnastics on a desk in front of a Hopper print. To the left of this scene is a crude kabukiesque face drawn on an inflamed light switch, with matches for eyebrows.
Attitude is intrinsically tied to technique in Rouphail’s paintings, demonstrating that dedication to the medium (hyper-realistic painting, in this case) can not only trend, but it can also transcend. Rouphail’s technical painting prowess allows him to translate a stretched spectrum of ideas and images, high and low, with ostensibly little self-consciousness. Without his commitment to the history and practice of painting—balancing sensitivity with specificity, temperament with touch, and references with revisionism in order to yield more complicated and comprehensive ideas and images—the inclusion of Sharpie tags that read “EAT SHIT” and “STUPID ASSHOLE” (The Year Ahead) would simply come off as juvenile. But applied by Rouphail’s steady hands, these shaky subjects suggest to viewers, artists, and others, “It’s okay to care; it’s okay to try; it’s okay to be honest; it’s okay to be vulnerable.”
Paul Rouphail: The Ideal Room runs from September 7–October 13 at Smart Objects (1828 W. Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90026).