Melvin John Ramos (1935-2018) was an American figurative artist working mainly on female nudes. He was a remarkable representative of the pop-art genre, so his works are the essence of American culture based on consumerism and advertising. The nude woman embracing a giant Coca-Cola bottle, who is she? Still a woman or an object to be sold? Does she promote the Coca-Cola brand or the brand promotes her? Is it the satire, which points at what will remain of the Americans and humankind in general when the civilization passes away? The spectator faces these questions when he looks at the pop-art paintings.
Fig. 1. Mel Ramos (Wikipedia.org)
The Way to Pop Art and the Career
Ramos was born in Sacramento in a family of Portuguese immigrants. Attending Sacramento Junior College and San Jose State College, Ramos was taught by pop-art painter Wayne Thiebaud, whose strong influence can be easily traced in the artist’s works. Using bright colors, Thiebaud depicted common objects like cans, sandwiches, and lipsticks (Fig. 3, 4, 5). After graduation in 1958, Ramos started his teaching career at Elk Grove High School and Mira Loma High School in Sacramento. Then eight years later, he began to contribute to California State University, East Bay, in Hayward, California. Since 1997, he was Professor Emeritus. In 1986, the artist was awarded Visual Artist’s Fellowship Grant by National Endowment for the Arts. His works are exhibited in many public galleries, the list of which you can see at the artist’s site melramos.com. Ramos also produced several books of his art and created amusing sculptures based on his paintings.
Fig. 2. Exhibition in Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, 2012 (Wikipedia.org)
Fig. 3. Lipsticks by Thiebaud (townnews.com)
Fig. 4. Sandwich by Thiebaud (pinterest.com)
Fig. 5. Girl in White Boots by Thiebaud (pinterest.com)
Dita von Teese
Among his works, Ramos had a series entitled “Martini Miss.” Depictions of nudes in martini glasses are dated from the 1990s to 2004. We don’t know whether burlesque dancer Dita von Teese was inspired by the works of Mel Ramos when she started to perform in a giant glass in the 1990s and early 2000s. In his turn, Ramos was definitely inspired by her performances because, in 2017, he created a sculpture of Dita sitting in a martini glass.
Fig. 6. “Martini Miss” (melramos.com)
Fig. 7. Dita’s performance in the glass (secretmanchester.com)
Fig. 8. Mel Ramos “Dita”, 2017 (melramos.com)
In the article devoted to fashion photographer Helmut Newton, we quoted the words of philosopher Agamben on the models’ nudity. He said that models wear it like clothes, so it stops being what it’s supposed to be and disappears. Nude celebrities of Mel Ramos wear their nakedness, not like costumes, but like the commercial wrap of Doublemint or Toblerone, so it becomes associated with a certain product.
Fig. 9. Doublemint Twins
2005 – 30″ x 22″ (melramos.com)
Fig. 10. Toblerone Tess
2007 – 30″ x 44 1/4″ (melramos.com)
Fig. 11. Candy #2
2004 – 33″ x 23″ (melramos.com)
Fig. 12. Della Monty
2013 – 30 5/8″ x 25 1/8″ (melramos.com)
Fig. 13. Chew-bacca (melramos.com)
Fig. 14. Lola-Cola #5
2018 – 31 3/4″ x 23 ” (melramos.com)
Fig. 15. Donut Doll
2018 – 23 1/2″ x 31 7/8 ” (melramos.com)
Fig. 16. Dunkin’ Donut Doll
2006 – 43″ x 22″ (melramos.com)
Fig. 17. Doggie Dinah
1995 – 30″ x 20″ (melramos.com)
Fig. 18. Fraulein French Fries
2003 – 17″ x 17″ (melramos.com)
Fig. 19. Mint Patty
2017 – 31 3/4″ x 23 ” (melramos.com)
Fig. 20. Miss Kiss
2012 – 31 1/2″ x 23 1/2″ (melramos.com)
Fig. 21. Mandy M (melramos.com)
Fig. 22. Tucher (melramos.com)
Fig. 23. The Pause That Refreshes #2
2005 – 34″ x 23″ (melramos.com)
Fig. 24. Virnaburger
2015 – 17″ x 21″ (melramos.com)
Fig. 25. Barbieburger (melramos.com)
When we speak of the most noticeable paintings by Ramos, it’s hard not to mention his depiction and sculpture of the nude female sitting on a big burger. Along with the title “Barbieburger,” this work seems to be a succinct description of the 1990s’ pop culture.
Fig. 26. Manet’s Olympia, 1974, Prints and multiples, Lithograph on wove paper, Caviar20, Toronto
Fig. 27. Manet “Olympia”, 1863 (Wikipedia.org)
Fig. 28. The Venus of Urbino, Titian, 1534 (Wikipedia.org)
Fig. 29. Sleeping Venus, Giorgione, 1510 (Wikipedia.org)
In 1974, Ramos produced a curious remake of the notorious “Olympia” by Manet (1863). As is commonly known, the work of Manet caused a great scandal as he depicted a courtesan in a pose of the woman from “The Venus of Urbino” by Titian, who, in his turn, was influenced by “Sleeping Venus” of Giorgione. Modern Venus, who has finally forgotten her origin from the Renaissance oeuvre but keeps her resemblance to Olympia, is the American Barbie, queen of marketing, which comes as no surprise. Manet’s Olympia is posing to her painter, but in the work of Ramos, the element of posing is emphasized even more. The servant looks at the painter too, as if Ramos was taking a picture of these women. The black cat is replaced with a monkey staring at us as well. The light background reminds us of the vivid images on the white magazine spreads.
And as a conclusion… The Freudian set of pictures with giant Cuban cigarettes!
Fig. 30. Hav-a-Havana #18
2011 – 29 5/8″ x 45 1/4″ (melramos.com)
Fig. 31. Hav-a-Havana #4
2001 – 35″ x 33″ (melramos.com)
Fig. 32. Hav-a-Havana #7
2008 – 30″ x 44″ (melramos.com)
Fig. 33. Hav-a-Havana #9
2014 – 21 7/8″ x 36 3/4″ (melramos.com)
Fig. 34. Hav-a-Havana #5
2002 – 30 5/8″ x 25 1/8″ (melramos.com)
Fig. 35. Hav a Havana #11
2016 – 31 1/16″ x 23 5/8 ” (melramos.com)
Fig. 36. Hav-a-Havana #10
2015 – 29 1/2″ x 45 1/8″ (melramos.com)
Fig. 37. Hav-a-Havana #23 (melramos.com)
Fig. 38. Hav-a-Havana #3
1999 – 22 5/8″ x 22 5/8″ (melramos.com)
Fig. 39. Hav-a-Havana sculpture (melramos.com)
Sources: melramos.com, wikipedia.org.
Click HERE for the flirtatious nudes of the fashion photographer Helmut Newton….!!
More of Mel Ramos’ sensual consumerism can be found on the artist’s website….!!
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