Rosemarie Fiore and Oluwatobi Adewumi at Von Lintel Gallery – Art and Cake

Oluwatobi Adewumi, Headlines (Left) & Rosemarie Fiore, Smoke Painting #77 (Right)
Photo Courtesy of Von Lintel Gallery

Rosemarie Fiore: Skywriting and Oluwatobi Adewumi: Headlines

Von Lintel Gallery, Santa Monica
Through November 5, 2022

Written by David S. Rubin
Rosemarie Fiore is as much an inventor as she is a painter. For more than two decades, the New York-based artist has been practicing a unique form of process art using tools of her own invention to create abstract compositions made by exploding fireworks, first on paper and more recently on canvas. To produce the canvas works that are currently on view, Fiore employed what she calls “painting machines designed specifically for firework color smoke canisters.” The machinery can be manipulated through a variety of means using over 200 tools that range from handheld implements to a 400 pound forklift, and which can hold up to 150 smoke bomb canisters at a time. As Fiore steers her tools in a dancelike motion, layered compositions are built up from colored smoke released through holes in the canisters at varying speeds and pressures.

Fiore’s process is often considered an extension of Surrealist fumage, a technique of painting with smoke that was pioneered by Wolfgang Paalen in the late 1930s. Additionally, Fiore views her work as a form of performance art, as her practice of painting by using her whole body can be linked to an art historical lineage that includes Jackson Pollock, Yves Klein and Carolee Schneemann.  

As performative events, Fiore’s works share a strong affinity with Judy Chicago’s colored smoke and fireworks performances, which date back to the late 1960s. Whereas Chicago’s interest was primarily in feminizing then male-dominated land art by creating “softer” temporary ephemeral sculptures in open landscape, Fiore appears to be more concerned with using unconventional processes and materials to expand the possibilities of abstract painting.

In the current “Skywriting” series, Fiore simulates a variety of painting styles that derive from different moments in art history, ranging from snakelike undulations of Abstract Expressionist gestural brushwork that resemble primal cave paintings to dense clusters of circular disks that recall the early Modernist paintings of Robert and Sonia Delaunay, as well as those by Marcel Duchamp that replicate the internal workings of machinery itself. Other examples suggest microorganisms in the manner of Terry Winters’ late 20th-century biomorphic abstractions.

Filling the back gallery, Nigerian self-taught artist Oluwatobi Adewumi makes an impressive debut with a handsome suite of mixed media portraits on paper of African women immigrants. Disoriented by the culture shock he experienced after moving to conservative McNeil, Arkansas in 2018, Adewumi decided to create the portraits as a means of “giving space to marginalized voices” of the African Diaspora.

The seven black women in Adewumi’s series “Headlines” are presented as strong and resilient. In this series, Adewumi tells their stories of overcoming misogyny, racism, and inequality through details that are drawn or embedded in collaged newspaper clippings used to depict clothing and jewelry. All of the figures are also shown with patterns of vertical lines that cover their bodies and, in some cases, their faces. While the artist considers these patterns to signify the stereotypical labels placed on the women by society, the imagery also suggests prison bars, thereby reminding us of the forced constraints of oppression.

As part of his process, Adewumi gets to know his subjects and their histories. The sitter for Everything You Need, for example, is a friend who disclosed to him that her “biggest empowerment” was walking away from a physically and emotionally abusive relationship that lasted for seven years. To show that she is triumphant, she wears an emerald green earring that stands out strikingly against the predominantly black-and-white composition. Additionally, her head is framed by a halo constructed from a string of cutout words that read “strong beautiful family fun smart family wise elegant leader bold graceful kind.”

In Headlines, the narrative can be found in the woman’s attire, which emphasizes the shared experiences that most of the women have in common. Her neckwear, for example, includes a newspaper graphic of a boy wearing a hoodie, an image chosen by the artist as a reference to the common racist stereotyping of hoodied black people as suspicious.

In two of the more minimal examples, both of which depict the subject making eye contact with the viewer, Adewumi pleas for empathy in a most succinct and passionate manner. In The Crown, the connotations of royalty expressed in the woman’s elaborate jewelry is visually reiterated in the crown-like shape of her distinctly African hairstyle; and the bar code stamped over the side of the woman’s neck and face in See It Coming 1 is a stunning reminder of the inhumane cruelty practiced by the Trump administration when they treated migrants more as inventoried commodities than as people.

Von Lintel Gallery
2525 Michigan Ave., Unit A7
Santa Monica, CA 90404