Carol Rama (Turin 1918) is an autobiographical artist. Every person, every object that appears in her works is matched in Carol’s story and memories. Truncated female bodies, false teeth, beds, wheel-chairs, animals, shoes and other similar objects are the subjects of her first watercolours, which, when they first appeared (1936-46), were so anachronistic as to be unacceptable (her first one-man show in 1945 was closed, and the works impounded).
These works reflect the angst and fantasies of a young woman, faced all of a sudden with the most traumatic aspects of life, after a rather protected childhood in the family home.
In the 1950s Carol felt the need to escape the boundaries of autobiography and became part of Turin’s MAC group (Movimento Arte Concreta), working out her personal concept of abstraction. From the 1960s her research once more turned to delve into intimate depths, uniting the reality of used objects with her intrinsic pictorial creativity. Paintings resulted, called bricolages [do-it-yourselfs] by her friend Edoardo Sanguineti. He would accompany Carol and her work from the beginning of the sixties with his poetry and authentically bizarre presentations. Friends have always played a large role in Carol’s life, beginning with people from her own city, Turin, such as Felice Casorati, Albino Galvano, Italo Calvino, Massimo Mila, Carlo Mollino and many others. During trips in the 1970s to Paris and New York with her dealer Anselmino she met Andy Warhol, Orson Welles and especially Man Ray, who she continued to see frequently until his death.
Carol Rama’s work from the 1970s was both intimate and wide-ranging: she spread the inner tubes of bicycle tyres on often very large formats, recalling her father’s bicycle factory. Often worn, repaired and full of patchs, these tubes create a living pictorial surface, with a visual and tactile effect similar to human skin.
In 1980, the artist had a fundamentally important meeting with Lea Vergine, who included Carol in the travelling exhibition on great twentieth-century artists, entitled L’altra metà dell’avanguardia [The Other Half of the Avant-Garde], with many of her works from the 1930s and 1940s. Thanks to Lea Vergine her first anthological exhibition was staged in 1983 in the Sagrato of Milan Cathedral. Finally the work of her early years was appreciated, and this is perhaps one of the reasons why Carol returned in the beginning of the eighties back to figuration and works full of fantasy, quirkiness, hinted tales and allusions to myths and legends. Carol Rama never abandoned figurative work again, though over time the figures and characters – always linked to her personal story – have become more essential, almost as though they were emblems.
Carol Rama was now known within the limited circle of contemporary art enthusiasts. Public recognition on a large scale only arrived in 2003, when she was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 50th Venice Biennale. In 2004 the Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Foundation in Turin staged a large anthological exhibition of her work, which subsequently travelled to the Mart in Rovereto, Italy, and the Baltic Museum of Gateshead in Britain. The city museum of Ulm (Germany) and the Galerie im Taxispalais in Innsbruck (Austria) also organised a large retrospective exhibition of her work in 2004-2005.