Renee Petropoulos

Article excerpt

Renee Petropoulos revives the large-scale circular format of the tondo, so prevalent in the Renaissance, covering it with richly evocative shapes and symbols and adapting it to accommodate her fin-de-20th-century theoretical concerns. Most strikingly, she hollows out her large tondos (almost 50 inches in diameter), in such a way that their painterly surfaces--encrusted with webs of floral and animal forms, ribbons, heraldic motifs, and, in some cases, vague remnants of text--become chunky frames circumscribing central voids. Where the Madonna and Child should be lies the vacuous gallery wall, and the frame, usually made to function as a self-effacing accoutrement to the painted beauties within, aggressively asserts its pictorial potential.

Rendered in jewellike, decorative tones, the cryptic, richly colored flora and fauna circling the donut-shaped wood panels implied a subcutaneous (febrile and deeply organic) world of esoteric symbolism, an underground femininity that secretly works to develop an alternative to the rigid phallocentric viewing system staged by the conventional picture plane, with its purposeful tunneling of the gaze. Empty heraldic devices and cameos, themselves framed with baroque arabesques of simulated ironwork or carved wood, mirror the blankness of the central holes and refuse the signs of paternal identity usually proffered by these devices.

Petropoulos' conceptual project was furthered in two small installations, in which she specified her interest in the framing and representation of identities. In one room, an array of small paintings of hats (in oval frames) functioned like a group of family portraits in a baronial manse, but again the images were mute. …