Mel Ramos, who was born in Sacramento, California, in 1935, ranks among Wayne Thibaud and Ed Ruscha as one of the pioneers of the West Coast Pop Art. It was already in the beginning of the 1960’s that he appeared with paintings of comic heroes – Batman, Superman, Fantomas, and in doing so, he placed himself, with his popular subjects, in the Olympus of the international Pop Art movement. In 1963 he painted female comic-stripe characters such as Wonder Woman or Sheena the Warrior Princess, introducing a note of provocative female sexiness that became central to his work.
From the mid 1960’s, he developed indeed a specific kind of pop art iconography by combining voluptuous nude pin up girls from American calendars and magazines (like Playboy and Penthouse) with over-sized mass consumers products (soda bottles, cigarette packs, candy bars, etc.), seen and functioning most often as phallic symbols. These well-known series of nudes, as well as his voyeuristic Peek-a-Boo series from 1964, peeking into women's bedrooms through keyholes, comment ironically on the image of women projected by the mass media and the advertisements of the consumers society, and at the same time wittily bringing to mind its antecedents in the tradition of the nude in Western art. In the 1970’s, as a salute to art history, Ramos re-appropriated and interpreted famous nude masterpieces, including those of Boucher, Ingres, Manet, and Modigliani, replacing, in a humorous way, their subtle eroticism with more “vulgar” and direct sex appeal of the pin-ups. For this passionate fan of the female figure it makes no difference whether he avails himself of high art or of mass media.
This Mel Ramos exhibition has been made possible by the most generous donation of Ernst Hilger, gallerist in Vienna, which includes 30 high quality lithographs from recent editions, published by him between 1996 and 2009, and printed by Stamperia Carini in Florence. Mel Ramos has been a prolific and expert contributor to the field of printmaking, and his graphic art work has contributed considerably to his popularity in America and Europe. His prints mirror motifs developed in his paintings and he has been admirably able to translate imagery from one media to another, and to make himself and his pin-ups unforgettable.