Combining elements of family photos, still lifes, and grand manner portraiture—think of idealized and elite historical subjects depicted life-size and full length—New Jersey native Celeste Rapone’s paintings explore how human behavior, over time, frequently becomes performance as a result of the stereotypes and rituals to which one is exposed. Her oil-on-canvas compositions, often incorporating disposable décor such as glitter and curling ribbon, are redolent of Italian American tradition, camp, and contemporary folklore. Her predominantly female subjects are made-up in, and effectively redone by, the kitsch and celebratory material aspects of such cultures.
Whether packaged in wrapping paper (Animal and Early Bird, to name a few) or presented in costumed triplicate (the garishly Catholic American tableau Funeral), Rapone’s subjects become portraits of fetishized abundance, essentially anonymous yet central to the action—the life of the party.
Rapone has written that her work is interested in “the phenomenon of making memories,” and she said in a recent interview with Ian Ostrowski that she encourages “competition between [multiple] surfaces,” having “no idea where [the painting] will go . . . it’s [an] exciting and terrifying place to be.”