Original color lithograph, archivally matted and framed, 22 1/2 x 28 1/2 inches
Mel Ramos (1935-2018) was an American figurative painter, specializing most often in paintings of female nudes, whose work incorporates elements of realist and abstract art. Born in Sacramento, California, to a first generation Portuguese-Azorean immigrant family, he gained his popularity as part of the pop art movement of the 1960s. Ramos is “best known for his paintings of superheroes and voluptuous female nudes emerging from cornstalks or Chiquita bananas, popping up from candy wrappers or lounging in martini glasses”. He was also a university art professor.
Ramos attended Sacramento Junior College and San Jose State College. One of his earliest art teachers was Wayne Thiebaud, who is considered his mentor, and who remained his friend. Ramos received his B.A. and his M.A. from Sacramento State College, finishing his education in 1958. From 1958–1966, Ramos taught art at Elk Grove High School and Mira Loma High School in Sacramento. After two brief college teaching assignments, he began a long career (1966–1997) at California State University, East Bay, in Hayward, California, and then served as Professor Emeritus. He was Artist in Residence at Syracuse University and the University of Wisconsin. He married Leta Helmers in 1955, who was the model for many of his early nude paintings.
Ramos received his first important recognition in the early 1960s; since 1959 he has participated in more than 120 group shows. Along with Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, he was one of the first artists to do paintings of images from comic books, and works of the three were exhibited together at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1963.Along with Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist, Tom Wesselmann and Wayne Thiebaud, Ramos produced art works that celebrated aspects of popular culture as represented in mass media. His paintings have been shown in major exhibitions of pop art in the U.S. and in Europe, and reproduced in books, catalogs, and periodicals throughout the world.
In 2009, Ramos was part of the first Portuguese American bilingual art book and exhibit in California “Ashes to Life a Portuguese American Story in Art” with fellow artists Nathan Oliveira, John Mattos and João de Brito. Ramos was represented by the Louis K. Meisel Gallery since 1971. He has also been represented for many years by San Francisco’s Modernism gallery and Galerie Ernst Hilger, Austria. A major exhibition of his work was held at the Albertina in Vienna in 2011, and a retrospective of over 50 years of his work opened at the Crocker Art Museum in his hometown of Sacramento on June 2, 2012. This show was “the first major exhibition of his work in his hometown”, and his first American retrospective in 35 years.
“1 Cent Life” began as a simple idea by artist Walasse Ting in 1962, developed during talks he had with his friend the artist Sam Francis. Ting wanted to combine international artists and different styles into a single book, linking them together in one collective spirit alongside his own art and poetry.
“1 Cent Life” was a landmark publication from 1964, and now a collectable book based on the impressive artwork it contains. It was a revolutionary tract for a collective aesthetic; an assembled vision of Pop and European abstraction, featuring flat hard-edged and splatter painting; biomorphic art, splashing florescent colors and monochromes all meeting up in a single loud and dynamic package. “1 Cent Life” is among the most beautifully conceived and artistic book-works of the 1960s, unlike anything published before or after.
With large empty spaces next to areas of maximum color saturation and layered density, “1 Cent Life” was an inspirational book of 1960s design and spirit – a polyglot enterprise –and certainly Ting’s best known work.
“1 Cent Life” is a large elephant-folio unbound book containing 62 lithographs made by 28 European and American artists with 62 letterpress poems by Walasse Ting and set in multi-colored inks. The lithography was realized and printed in Paris by Maurice Beaudet and the typography carried out in handset letterpress by George Girard. The book was published by E. W. Kornfeld, Bern, Switzerland in 1964, and edited by artist Sam Francis.
Ting’s poems are jarring and mystical, sometimes epic and soaring, screamed out in all-capitalized letters or whispered in lower-case, creating a language lost in limbo, choked off from reality, lacking standard grammar and punctuation, soaked with impulsive wit and exoticism – a language of a complete new consciousness – a tongue that is bound with the earth and sky, inflamed and out of sync with technology and the world. Ting is difficult but always true to himself.
“1 Cent Life” was dedicated to the maverick Detroit-based contemporary art collector Florence Barron, most famously known as the woman who in 1963 commissioned Andy Warhol to produce his first self-portraits. It is speculated that Florence Barron put up the funds necessary to print the edition, as one of the main themes of her collection was her love of books and words and their relationship to contemporary art, advertising media and culture. Florence may have just been close friends with Ting, an artist she supported and promoted, among her friends and contacts.
In addition to the original printing of 1900 unsigned copies, there was a numbered portfolio edition of 100 signed copies in a pink cloth-covered solander box. There are 62 original lithographs in colors by; Pierre Alechinsky, Karel Appel, Enrico Baj, Alan Davie, Jim Dine, Oyvind Fahlstrom, Sam Francis, Robert Indiana, Alfred Jensen, Asgar Jorn, Allan Kaprow, Alfred Leslie, Roy Lichtenstein, Joan Mitchell, Kiki O.K., Claes Oldenburg, Mel Ramos, Robert Rauschenberg, Reinhold, J.P. Riopelle, James Rosenquist, Antonio Saura, Kimber Smith, K.R.H. Sonderberg, Walasse Ting, Bram Van Velde, Andy Warhol and Tom Wesselmann.
The chosen title; “1 Cent Life” is ambiguous and unclear. His respect for the low and neglected is evident throughout the book, where painting, women and food are at the core of Ting’s life and there is little need for monetary considerations. Prostitutes, bums, movie stars, the Pope and J.F.K. are given equal billing in the poems.
There is no hierarchy or order to “1 Cent Life”, no artist is featured and all pages are loose and removable. The title could refer to “one sent life” – a nod to the creator (artistic or spiritual) as in the unity of the collection of artists contained within. Ting’s ideas and canvas were always in the now, a reflection of the eternity present in everything.