For more than thirty years, Mel Ramos taught art at California State University, where he is now Professor Emeritus.
His distinguished career includes a National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artist Fellowship Grant, and work that has been included in the collections of MoMA, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, The Whitney Museum, The Smithsonian and other museums around the world.
Ramos’ career took off in the 1960s, when his work was shown alongside those of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. HIs pop art paintings, based on comics and consumerism, and influenced by his mentor and teacher, Wayne Thiebaud, have been valued by collectors for more than fifty years.
Picasso and Matisse do a figure, a naked figure, a naked woman, they call it a nude. When I do it they call it a pin-up. The same with Tom Wesselmann. He doesn’t like it either.” — Mel Ramos
Ramos was born in Sacramento, California in 1935. His grandparents emigrated to California from Portugal. As third generation, he is very much a product of American culture. “My work didn’t grow out of some deep seated need to express myself ethnically,” he said.
Ramos graduated from Sacramento State College, in 1958, with an M.A. degree in art. As his work evolved, he began to focus more on the female figure as it relates to advertising in America. “Sex sells.” he says, “And my work grew out of interests in things – comic books as a child, advertising in America, American advertising in magazines and media.”
Ramos considers himself a figure painter, and resents being called a ‘pin-up artist’. “Picasso and Matisse do a figure, a naked figure, a naked woman, they call it a nude.” he said, “When I do it they call it a pin-up. The same with Tom Wesselmann. He doesn’t like it either.”
Early in his career, Ramos used his wife, Leta, as a model for his paintings. Although they haven’t modeled for him, you can see faces of Liv Tyler, Cameron Diaz, Uma Thurman and, most recently, Scarlett Johansson, gracing his works.
Ramos’ nudes with products, like cigars, Coke, Velveeta and Red Hots are instantly recognizable. His work also includes figures in iconic clothing and superheroes (both male and female).
His 1993 painting, Crime Busters, was altered and used as the cover art for Rage Against the Machine’s Evil Empire album.
Mel Ramos is still working, dividing his time between homes in Oakland, California and Horta, Spain.