Mel Ramos and Tom Wesselmann
This virtual exhibition explores the frisky and sunny world of Mel Ramos and Tom Wesselmann. Part of the Pop Art movement emerging in the 1960s just as Abstract Expressionism became the dominant style in the US, Ramos, Wesselman, and their fellow Pop artists offered a brighter and buoyant alternative. Ramos is best known for his paintings of superheroes and female nudes juxtaposed with pop culture imagery. Many of the subjects in his paintings emerge from iconic brands or cultural touchstones like Chiquita bananas, M&M bags, or Snickers. In this exhibition, the models embrace Coca-Cola bottles, cigarette packs, and ketchup bottles. Here, visual delight is combined with suggested appetizing and commercial indulgence.
Although Ramos appropriated the imagery of advertisement, he maintained a realism and an interest, as seen in Carmelina-Homage to Henri, to master painters. The commercialism, sensuality, and exuberance in his works produces paintings that flickers with humor and joy alongside classic, if imaginary, portraiture.
Alongside fellow Pop artists like Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist, and friend Roy Lichtenstein, Ramos provided a visual language for audiences to understand and experience the proliferation of commercial images that exploded in post-war America, and for today’s viewers, a way to interpret the current abundance of images provided by a digital world. Ramos even began using computers to assist him in his creative process, using the technology to help him create compositions.
Mel Ramos was born in Sacramento in 1935; in high school, his interest in art as stoked through making posters for school events in lieu of certain class projects. Later, he attended Sacramento Junior College, San Jose State College, and Sacramento State College. Over the course of his long career, Ramos maintained a process of painting in which he would the heads and bodies of different women to create the exact look he was searching for. This anatomical collage, along with classic consumer goods and upbeat colors, produces a fantasy to delight the viewer.
Like Ramos, Tom Wesselman’s work references classical nudes which he juxtaposed with modern objects. Even the nudes seem updated for the modern viewer, such as bikini tan lines. In his vibrant graphic style in contrast to Ramos’s realism, his paintings become aesthetic pop objects celebrating and offering up visual delights.
Tom Wesselman was born in Cincinnati in 1931 and studied at Cooper Union starting on 1956. Although he had wanted to become a cartoonist, his admiration for the work of Willem de Kooning turned Wesselman to painting. He searched for a way to make paintings as consuming as de Kooning but in his own voice; in this search, Wesselmann turned towards figuration and nudes. Over his long career, he experimented with different assemblage, shaped canvases, cut metal figures, and more in search of a bold and aesthetically appealing visual language.
Did you know… that Mel Ramos studied under Wayne Thiebaud for four years? Ramos cites Thiebaud as someone who had the greatest impact on his art and instilled in him a desire to make great work.