• Post-War & Contemporary Art Ev auction at Christies

    Sale 12243

    Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Auction

    6 October 2016, London, King Street

  • Lot 42

    Mel Ramos (b. 1935)

    Peek-a-boo Raven #2

    Estimate

    Mel Ramos (b. 1935)
    Peek-a-boo Raven #2
    signed, titled and dated 'PEEK-A-BOO, RAVEN #2, BY MEL RAMOS 1964' (on the reverse)
    oil on canvas
    59 7/8 x 44 1/8in. (152 x 112cm.)
    Painted in 1964


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    ‘In 1960 I was wallowing in despair when I gave up painting abstract expressionism and painted something that I used to love as a kid, American super heroes, and I did a painting of Superman. My life changed, Pop Art was born and I was caught up in the energy of it all’
    —M. RAMOS

    ‘The nudes on the other side of Ramos’s keyholes have apparently spotted the prying eye immediately and are quite unabashed by it. They pout and pose as though to a camera or to their own reflections. Rather than seeming tantalizingly out of reach beyond the keyhole, they seem easily available through it’
    —E. CLARIDGE

    Painted during the first year of Mel Ramos’ now-iconic Peek-a-boo picture series, Peek-a-boo Raven #2 is an early example of the artist’s unique re-interpretation of the traditional female nude, fused with the commercial imagery of American Pop Art. Glimpsed through a silhouetted keyhole, the raven-haired beauty looks teasingly over her shoulder, a surreptitious smile flickering upon her lips. Directly meeting the viewer’s gaze, she appears complicit in the scene, such that the distance created by the keyhole silhouette is all but lost. Any sense of sinister voyeurism is deliberately banished from the image, and replaced with the artist’s signature brand of seductive humour. It is in these early works that we see Ramos begin to forge the style that would define his career, and which would confirm his position as a key figure within the Pop Art movement.

    In much the same way as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, who drew inspiration from American mass media and commercial imagery, Mel Ramos discovered early success in his comic book-inspired art. In 1960, frustrated by the free brushstrokes and gestural movements of the Abstract Expressionists, Ramos recalls how ‘I painted something that I used to love as a kid, American super heroes, and I did a painting of Superman. My life changed, Pop Art was born and I was caught up in the energy of it all’ (M. Ramos, quoted in M. Foldes, ‘Making the Most of Everything’, http://old.ragazine.cc/2014/01/mel-ramos-interview/ [accessed 6 September 2016]). Working outside of the burgeoning New York scene, by 1964 Ramos had found his voice, his signature sultry nudes finding their first articulations in his series of Peek-a-boo paintings.

    With his distinctively luminous application of paint, Ramos distinguishes himself from the comic book aesthetic of Lichtenstein and Warhol. Instead, his idealised images show the influence of his early mentor Wayne Thiebaud. Ramos first met Thiebaud at his high school career day in 1953, prompting his enrolment at Sacramento City College where Thiebaud was a teacher. Working from his tutor’s example, Ramos exaggerates his sexualized imagery by using luscious brushstrokes to depict the laminated skin of his pin-ups. Speaking of this formative influence, Robert Rosenblum writes, ‘Above all, there was Wayne Thiebaud, whose regimented line-ups of row after row of American junk food were rendered like Ramos’ girls, fruit and comics, with a jarring combination of the overtly attractive and the covertly ugly ... from the moist surfaces of creamy artifice it was clear that Ramos, even 3000 miles from New York and 6000 from Europe, had touched the very pulse of the 60s in the way that new art always changes our perception of old art’ (R. Rosenblum, Mel Ramos: Pop Art Images, Cologne 1994, p. 17).

    Throughout his oeuvre, Mel Ramos has deftly and perceptively fused Pop culture and mass media with the art-historical tradition of the female nude. Laden with irony and impeccably painted, Ramos’ paintings hold up a mirror to society, underscoring the inherent artificiality of image-making. The deliberate eroticism of his women challenges the boundaries between high and low art: an investigation the artist continued a few years later when he began to combine his nude models with household objects. Alluring and beguiling, Peek-a-boo Raven #2 is a product of its time, speaking directly to the zeitgeist of sexual liberation and consumer culture that took hold during the 1960s.

    Special Notice

    These lots have been imported from outside the EU for sale using a Temporary Import regime. Import VAT is payable (at 5%) on the Hammer price. VAT is also payable (at 20%) on the buyer’s Premium on a VAT inclusive basis. This VAT is not shown separately on the invoice. When a buyer of such a lot has registered an EU address but wishes to export the lot or complete the import into another EU country, he must advise Christie's immediately after the auction.


    Provenance

    Bianchini Gallery, New York.
    Private Collection, New York.
    Collection Yoav Harlap, Israel (acquired from the above in 1994).
    His sale, Christie’s London, 15 October 2006, lot 107.
    Private Collection, Palm Beach.
    Anon. sale, Sotheby’s New York, 15 May 2014, lot 232.
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.


    Literature

    P. Restany, ‘A Rare Collection in Israel’, in Cimaise, revue de l’art actuel, no. 246, April-May 1997 (incorrectly illustrated in colour, p. 14).
    T. Levy (ed.), Mel Ramos: Heroines, Goddesses, Beauty Queens, Bielefeld 2002, p. 225 (illustrated in colour, p. 189; incorrectly titled “Peek-a-boo, Raven #3”).
    D. Kuspit, Mel Ramos: Pop Art Fantasies: The Complete Paintings, New York 2004 (illustrated in colour, p. 78; incorrectly titled “Peek-a-boo, Raven #3”).


    Exhibited

    New York, Bianchini Gallery, The American Woman: Mel Ramos, 1964.
    New York, Spanierman Modern, Summer Selections, 2007.