signed, titled and dated 1971 on the reverse; signed and inscribed Oakland on the stretcher
oil on canvas
"My body of work has mostly dealt with an examination of antecedents in the history of art, in other words "art about art". I draw inspiration from popular media, advertising, comic books, art, billboards etc., and particularly the tradition of using beautiful women as subjects for my work in conjunction with commercial products. This incongruous relationship was a tenet of Surrealism which had a big influence on me when I was a teenager." Mel Ramos
Since the early 1960s, the subject of Mel Ramos' work has been that of the 'California Venus'- a term coined by art-critic Robert Rosenblum to describe the erotic female heroine that weaves its way through Ramos' work in various guises ranging from Playboy bunnies and comic book characters to beauty queens.
Like his fellow American Pop artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein who found the motifs for their work within the flood of mass media imagery that engulfed American society in the early 1960s, Mel Ramos discovered early success in his comic book inspired paintings that used "low" art, cartoon imagery as their subject matter. Ramos' breakthrough came with his painting Wonder Woman (1962), depicting the all American female heroine devised by D.C comics during wartime to gain a broader female readership, and who more recently had become a symbol of the growing feminist movement. Ramos' style of painting did not seek to imitate the comic book aesthetic in the same way as Lichtenstein's benday patterns had done or Warhol's silkscreen process. Rather his distinctively luminous impasto style emphasized the idealized painted image and was heavily influenced by the technique of his early mentor, Wayne Thiebaud – an artist who had his roots in European painting and who stressed the application of paint as a means of creating light and movement on the canvas, particularly in still life paintings.
Painting in the traditional sense allowed Mel Ramos to develop his own personal Pop Art aesthetic – one that saw him enhancing the physical as well as magical charms of the female cartoon heroines that starred in his work. What little clothing they wore was gradually trimmed back so that their already voluptuous curves were emphasized and exaggerated. This treatment was inspired by the media's depiction of women, particularly by the protagonists of pin-up photography whose images of film stars such as Marilyn Monroe transformed them into sex symbols. Ramos began to incorporate Hollywood stars and celebrities into his paintings, transforming actresses into comic heroines and cheeky peek-o-boo girls. Combining various source images and influences into a single composition was to become characteristic of Ramos' approach that increasingly sought to amalgamate reality and fiction, art and life. This was well complemented by his specific painterly blend of synthetic and natural forms, contrasting textures and colours, shapes and curves.
Ramos' unique approach to "Popular" art found its perfect resolution in the series of iconic pin-ups in which suggestively posed nudes were presented alongside everyday consumer products. A.C. Annie was one of several paintings that Gunter Sachs purchased in 1971 during Mel Ramos' exhibition at Galerie Bruno Bischofberger in Zurich. The artist recalls meeting Gunter Sachs at the opening of the exhibition, and how Sachs' purchase of these paintings represented the highlight of his career to date. It was one of Ramos' first major exhibitions in Europe and marked a significant step in his recognition as a leading American Pop artist.
Ramos' selection of supermarket goods, car parts and fast foods as suitable subjects for his work in these paintings mirrored the eruption of mass media and advertising imagery in American Pop art during the mid-1960s. His paintings developed Duchamp's idea of importing readymade objects into the sphere of art, and took it further by appropriating his found objects from the sphere of the parallel, everyday reality found within the mass media. Depicting the sun-kissed body of a blonde babe draped suggestively round the monumental sparkplug of an AC Cobra motorcar, AC Annie presents an idealized, exaggerated depiction of the Californian dream in American popular culture. It also gives a vibrant examination of the prevalent use of erotic imagery and sex in advertising of popular goods – an incongruous relationship and tenet of Surrealism that had influenced Ramos from his early days as an art student.
Ramos is the undisputed American Pop Art master of the erotic female nude. Like Tom Wesselmann and his series of 'Great American Nudes', Mel Ramos' work attracted significant opposition and outrage at the time, particularly from the feminist movement that had gathered momentum in the 1960s. However, the criticism levied against their work was largely misunderstood and misplaced, as too were the parallels that were drawn between the works of these two leading American Pop artists. Wesselmann's main concern in his depictions of nude women alongside advertising was to underline the stylization of sex into an advertising platform. His nudes are fragmented, faceless and anonymous, presented as linear emotionless objects that seamlessly merge with the palette of consumerism. He sought to expose the material desires of post-war consumerism and the mechanics that drove it. Ramos by contrast did precisely the opposite by seeking to transform popular culture's female heroines into idealized, candy-hued dolls, and humanizing the products they were supposed to be promoting. Ramos' paintings underline the artificiality of such alliances and make explicit the irony within them. Intended neither to preach nor to shock, Ramos' paintings are products of the visual media environment in which they were created. As such they are metaphors that question the viewer's own preconceptions about high and low art, and examine the nature of eroticism on a highly personal as well as universal level.
Mel Ramos in conversation with James Sevier, March 2012
What led you to juxtapose naked women and everyday objects like ketchup, Coca-Cola and cigarettes in the 1960s? Was it intended as a commentary on feminism or was it more out of desire to paint beautiful women?
Mel Ramos: Allen Jones, Tom Wesselmann and I were the targets of feminist rage by these women who maintained that we "exploited" them. Since I was unsympathetic to this aspect of feminism I ignored it. I was motivated to paint beautiful woman in conjunction with beautiful graphic design. Consequently, a few years ago I was in Paris and went to see an exhibition at the Louvre of works by Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese. I walked into a large room that had about thirty paintings of nude women by these artists. I had seen most of these paintings before, bit by bit, but never did I see so many in one room. I was immediately overcome by a sense of validation.
Like Gunter Sachs' own photography and film making, your work celebrates feminine beauty and eroticism. What was your inspiration for these paintings?
MR: My body of work has mostly dealt with an examination of antecedents in the history of art, in other words "art about art". I draw inspiration from popular media, advertising, comic books, art, billboards etc., and particularly the tradition of using beautiful women as subjects for my work in conjunction with commercial products. This incongruous relationship was a tenet of Surrealism which had a big influence on me when I was a teenager.
In 1971 when I did these paintings I had just finished a series of paintings of "Beauty and the Beast', which was a popular motif in the history of art and literature. That series was about the relationship of female figures and animals. As that series ran its course, I decided to continue with a series of figures involved with commercial products which I had begun in 1964. These paintings turned out to be the ones that Gunter Sachs purchased.
Who were the models in the Gunter Sachs paintings? Are AC Annie and Lola Cola real models who sat for you, or are they rather stereotypes?
MR: I hire models and photograph them, as I work from photographs. However I use the faces of iconic models and actresses. The faces of the models I used for the Gunter Sachs Paintings came from a Playboy magazine, but I can't remember the names.
Did Gunter Sachs approach you directly to buy the paintings? Were they all purchased at the same time or were they rather accumulated over several years?
MR: Gunter purchased all of the paintings from Bruno Bischofberger at the same time if my memory serves me.
How and when did you first meet Gunter Sachs?
MR: It was in Zurich when I was showing my work at Galerie Bruno Bischofberger in 1971.
What is an amazing memory you shared together with Gunter Sachs?
MR: I am afraid I only met him once and don't have any particular memories except to say that I was very impressed that he bought all four of my works which was the highlight of my career at the time.
When you met, were you aware of his art collection, or rather his reputation as a playboy?
MR: I didn't know who he was at the time and later heard about his reputation as a playboy.
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