The Italian artist Carol Rama (1918-2015) made art out of pain and tragedies. Her father committed suicide in his fifties and her mother was often institutionalized at various mental hospitals. The visits to the Mother's ward became the starting-point of her watercolors of the 1930s and 40s. The paintings are in small format and they bring to mind several prolific outsider artists such as August Natterer and Adolf Wölfli, and at other times Paul Klee glances past. People, mostly women, are depicted in difficult situations - often tied up in beds with medical restraints. Sexual fantasies with peculiar animal symbolism is a recurring theme. Prostheses and dentures another. All this obviously also channels Frida Kahlo in many ways. The early paintings involving bestiality make me think of Goya's famous "Los caprichos", but also antique frescoes.
Looking at the pictures, it's clear that Rama felt sympathy for the vulnerable people she depicts. Not rarely, they are completely nude except that they wear a crown and high heels, with their tongues sticking out in defiance. In all this, the people are depicted with dignity entirely dependent on the artist identifying with them. They never become victims. Her first exhibition in the hometown of Turin in 1945 was shut down by the police.
In the 50s her paintings get thick layers of acrylic paint in much more saturated colors than before, grow in size and occasionally have three-dimensional objects applied to them. Rama had by then joined the Movimento Arte Concreta group. Rama said she had to felt forced to rid herself of the exaggerated freedom that she was criticized for. She defined her driving forces as "anger and violence and sadness and a certain fetishism and out of joy and melancholy together and out of anger especially." Through her strong integrity and relentless approach, Rama managed to remain in the margin for a long time.
The 70s are characterized by bike tires (!), which are used in all possible ways as two- and three-dimensional materials. The choice stems from the father's bicycle factory and its economic downturn which eventually cost him his life. Her artistic development would continue and become more and more versatile with the new choices of material.
In the 1980s, the interest in Rama's early watercolors was renewed when presented in an exhibition with 100 female post-war artists. She returned to the figurative and started to paint on old architect's drawings, engine blueprints and various posters. With the figuration, the sexual fantasies from the early years also returned.
Personally, it's Rama's early pieces that have the strongest effect on me. Her artistic world is characterized by the incorrect, unembarrassed and fiery. She seems to be completely undaunted in her struggle against the conventional and indifferent. At the same time, she owns the ability to illustrate the fragile and vulnerable that always hides behind the grotesque and disfigured. She provokes and demasks, bothers and erupts. Carol Rama, who passed away at the age of 97 in 2015, experienced her fame late in life, which also caused a great deal of frustration. She personalizes as few others the eccentric artist identity, balancing somewhere between brilliance and madness.