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Artist profile: Mel Ramos
Dunkin’ Donuts (2006). Available at Barnebys.

by Robyn Ashley

LONDON.- Mel Ramos’ unmistakable paintings are a almost a perfect portrayal of the second half of the 20th century: commercialisation, sexualisation and provocation. The Californian artist was one of the many important figures in the pop art movement of the 1960s, distinguished from his contemporaries in his pin-up influences taken from previous decades.

Ramos began his artistic career as a high school teacher, following in many of his predecessors’ footsteps by supporting his talent through a career in education. During this time, Ramos’ work was first recognized and celebrated across the States and Europe, featuring in countless solo and group exhibitions from New York to Paris. His early work was more conservative with a sense of boyish naivety and charm, recreating superheroes from comic books. As his artistic fame steadily grew, Ramos also excelled in his educational career, having been taken on by California State University in 1966.

As well as the likes of Batman and Superman, Ramos reimagined the heroines of 1960s comic books, beginning his transition into the world of pin-up. The comic artists created their heroines in a highly sexualised manner, accentuating the female form in minimal costumes - evidently with little concern for the practicality of their appearance, and more of a focus of the aesthetic pleasure of these feminine figures.

To create his signature nude pop-art portrait, Ramos also looked to other contemporary print media; the nude female derived from images in Playboy, whilst the oversized consumer products were extracted from the adverts amongst magazine pages. The combination of these elements resulted in Ramos’ satirical style, commenting on the feminine portrayal in the media - however, the artist insists that his work is “apolitical”.

Although Ramos moved on from magazine images and used nude models for some time, he reverted back to his original method as the celebrity became his new pin-up. Female stars from Marilyn Monroe to Scarlett Johansson have been the subject of Ramos’ work - which, unsurprisingly, has caused much controversy. Few of these public figures have agreed to be portrayed by the pop artist; despite the assertion that these are merely ‘likenesses’ of the celebrities rather than true representations, many have considered Ramos’ art to exploit women.

Even amid such controversy, Ramos remains an extremely successful artist today at the age of 81, celebrated by collectors and institutes alike. After retiring from his 30-year-long teaching position at California State University, the artist has continued to paint his infamous nude females and requested commissions.

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