196

Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction

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London

Mel Ramos
1935 - 2018
BEAVER SHOT
signed and dated 66 on label affixed to the reverse
oil on shaped masonite mounted to oil on canvas
132 by 132 cm. 52 by 52 in.
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Provenance

David King, California
Private Collection, California
Private Collection
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Literature

Elizabeth Claridge, The Girls of Mel Ramos, Chicago 1975, p. 111, illustrated
Donald Kuspit, Mel Ramos Pop Art Fantasies: The Complete Paintings, New York 2004, p. 119, illustrated in colour
Otto Letze, Mel Ramos: 50 years of Pop Art, Ostfildern 2010, p. 22, no. 14, illustrated

Catalogue Note

The image of an attractive young woman appears over a monochrome diamond-shaped canvas in Mel Ramos’ Beaver Shot. She stares invitingly at the viewer, her lips curled into a teasing smile, as she flaunts her figure and her supreme confidence in her sexual appeal. Rising to fame in the 1960s, during the decade of soup cans, comic books and billboard ads, Ramos swiftly emerged as a foremost practitioner of Pop Art, embracing its youthful, irreverent rebelliousness and in-depth investigation of the American cultural phenomenon.

Like Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, who both imitated commercial kitsch realism in their paintings, Ramos sought to liberate avant-garde art from the Greenbergian elitist academicism to reflect the lived experience in everyday America. Posing against the backdrop of a bold canvas, the subject could easily be mistaken for a model in an advertising campaign, yet the product which she is trying to sell is nowhere to be seen. In its lack of clear product placement, the voyeurism of this work becomes the product to be advertised in its own right.

Having discovered early success in his comic book-inspired paintings, Ramos developed his own personal Pop Art aesthetic through the inventive application of paint and treatment of the female form. The tutorship of artist Wayne Thiebaud left a lasting impression on Ramos, ingraining in the latter artist an appreciation for the classical European tradition, particularly that of the female nude. Known for his frequent artistic references to Old Masters, Ramos upends the symbolism of Renaissance nudes in Beaver Shot. Unlike the Venuses of Velázquez or Sandro Botticelli, who turn away from the viewer or cover themselves in shame, the anonymous woman in Beaver Shot is fully aware of her desirability and seeks to flaunt it. Like Édouard Manet’s Olympia, the heroine of the present work stares directly at the viewer, challenging the authority of the male gaze. Her sultry look and knowing smile signify her awareness of her power. Unlike many of Ramos’ nudes, the woman is completely clothed; only a hint of undergarment is revealed to the viewer through a peeping hole. Her appeal thus no longer rests, as was the case for women in many Old Master paintings, in her nudity.

Executed in the crucial decades of Second-Wave Feminism and sexual liberation campaigns, Ramos’ Beaver Shot constitutes as a striking documentary of the decade radical change. Unlike the housewives of previous decades, Beaver Shot’s protagonist is not chaperoned by a male spouse or partner. Swapping out the housewife’s apron for a sleek, tight-fitting modern dress, she is empowered by her sexuality and exudes an undeniable aura of self-assurance. Placing her hands behind her head, as if implying that she has nothing to hide and nothing for which to be ashamed. If, as theorist John Berger claims, a woman’s presence conveys her attitude to herself, and defines what could or could not be done to her, then the present painting’s heroine evinces a total mastery over her presence and knowledge of her potent power.  

Over a prolific career, Ramos has created countless iconic reinterpretations of Old Masters female nudes in the context of consumerist, feminist 1960s America. Beaver Shot, with its depiction of a clothed female heroine against a backdrop of monochrome canvas, is among Ramos’ most nuanced and engaging works. Embedding a theoretical engagement with the hedonistic idealism of the age under a surface of consumerist culture superficiality – a quality unique to Pop Art – the present work is an example of the artist at his finest and a significant documentary of a bygone era.

Contemporary Art Day Auction

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London