Paul Rousso’s entry in an open international art competition hits that sweet spot of youthful innocence combined with nuanced social commentary.The logistics of his creation is another matter.The 54-year-old Charlotte artist just finished three months of working on “November 1,” his 30-by-9-foot acrylic montage of vintage and current candy wrappers that he entered in the international ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids, Mich. through October 6. He’s pleased with the variety of his work - which includes nearly 80 pieces - as well as the variety of ways it can be interpreted. Is the entry about innocence? Consumption? Commercialism?“Yes! Yes! Yes! Absolutely!” said Rousso, a Charlotte native who lives in the Raintree Country Club neighborhood. “I believe this is the next level of pop art or pop realism. It is definitely, to me, something that is completely singular.”Rousso said the idea “just sort of unconsciously came to me. I’m kind of known for doing currency, so I shut my eyes and imagined a huge area covered with currency and I’d title it ‘Jackpot’ or something. But it struck me immediately that ‘Gee, there’s no color.’“Then on some level this popped into my head. I thought immediately that it looks just like my kitchen table on November 1 after my son’s done on Halloween.” Rousso didn’t let practical complications defeat his vast imagination. In fact, the process of making the pieces enhanced the project’s overall creativity. “I began by using flamethrowers and three guys in a fireproof suit to heat up a 4-by-8 sheet of acrylic that has the image on it on both sides,” he said.He paused to let that sink in.“That got a little hairy,” he said with a laugh. “It’s got to be heated to a very high temperature, and you work with it while it’s hot. You’ve got about 20-30 seconds to manipulate it and then you’re done.”Not quite. Rousso admitted that “moving and packing these giant steel frames that hold these things together and all the pieces, I was really terrified of this.”“But just a few days before I was going to leave, I met this guy who works in show business packing and unpacking trucks. He’s been doing it for 25 years. He was the perfect person to help me figure out a way to very safely do this without my sweating about it.”Rousso conducted this interview while headed to Grand Rapids in a “15-foot truck loaded to the top with nearly 80 sculptures and these steel frames with all the welded hangers in place. So all I have to do is hang the frames and hang all the art.“This will be my first solo experience on hanging it up,” using a photograph of the completed work as a guide. “It’s like hanging 80 pictures on the wall and hanging them at angles that are just right.”He said potential copyright issues are not high on his list of concerns, that he’s confident he falls under a principle called fair use: “I’m not singling out any one brand or making a statement that’s based on anybody’s brand. I’m making a statement on America and candy. ... I’m sort of the Jackson Pollock of candy wrappers.”He’s noticed that casual viewers of the piece rarely consider the kind of work and appreciation for history that went into it. “I went through hell to get the old Tootsie wrapper, the kid with the bow and arrow, which is very rare. A lot of them are vintage and rare, all the ones we grew up with. There are also some that are current. I sort of started with the ’50s.”Among his favorites is Atomic FireBalls, a staple in movie theaters decades ago. But he’s got a special place in heart for the Caravelle wrapper. “My mother used to have those in her purse all the time. Those bars haven’t been around since, I don’t know, 1970.”Rousso began painting in Charlotte fulltime in 1989, with pieces in the Charlotte Convention Center and other locales. One of his favorites is his sculpture adorned with about 3,000 butterflies painted by kids at the Levine Jewish Community Center, a memorial to the 1.5 million children who died in the Holocaust. He’s also worked as a film scenic artist, staff art director and freelance illustrator.He said he’s as excited about the event as he is his entry. ArtPrize features more than 1,500 entries, with a top prize of $200,000 for the public vote.“It’s one of the top five art destinations in the world,” he said. “Everybody needs to know about it.”He has one regret about his behemoth: “I wish I had another 30 feet” for more wrappers. “I catch all kinds of hell for leaving out this, that and the other.”
Friday, Oct. 18, 2013
Charlotte artist enters massive pop art piece in international competition
Learn more: More pictures and a video on how the pieces were made: www.paulrousso.com. About the competition: www.artprize.org.
Reid Creager is a freelance writer for South Charlotte News. Have a story idea for Reid? Email him at email@example.com.
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