Il aura fallu près d’une vie pour que le travail de Carol Rama trouve un écho dans le monde de l’art. Peut-être est-ce là le prix à payer pour cette excentrique qui s’est toujours refusée à la facilité. Inclassable, Rama a traversé l’histoire artistique au gré de ses envies, sans que l’on puisse lui accoler une quelconque étiquette. Tel un fantôme, la peintre a occupé des murs sans qu’on ne la remarque jamais. Censurée dès ses premières expositions, mise à l’écart dans une époque où il était de mauvais ton d’être une femme, Carol Rama n’a rien laissé passer. Elle en a connu, pourtant, des pointures qui lui ont fait de l’œil. Carlo Mollino, Edoardo Sanguineti, Lea Vergine, Man Ray, Andy Warhol. Mais ses aspirations n’ont jamais failli : « Je n’ai pas eu besoin de modèle pour ma peinture, le sens du pêché est mon maître ».
Née en 1918 à Turin, la petite Carol n’était pas prédestinée à devenir l’une des artistes les plus radicales de sa génération. Ou peut-être que si, quelque part. Enfant d’une famille bourgeoise catholique traditionnelle, conceptrice d’un art au carrefour de l’arte povera et du junk art, ses œuvres, à la fois sexuellement viscérales et visuellement dérangeantes donnent à l’artiste une dimension assez peu conventionnelle. Une vie traversée par les extrêmes, jetée dans les tripes et le sang, qui a dû en effrayer plus d’un. Chez Carol Rama, la morale est aux abonnées absentes, tandis que son travail n’obéit qu’au corps, qu’à l’instinct. Une brutalité difficile à concevoir entre les mains d’une femme pour certains, préférant rejeter l’artiste dans les tréfonds de l’anomalie, là où elle appartient.
Carol Rama, Appassionata, 1939. Courtesy of Galleria Franco Masoero, Turin
Sa biographie est pourtant loin d’expliquer ses choix, mais l’internement de sa mère puis le suicide de son père n’est pas étranger aux thèmes qui plus tard, la poursuivront dans ses travaux de peintre et de plasticienne. Autodidacte, elle s’évade rapidement du poids de la morale catholique italienne et se fabrique son propre monde, faits de corps détraqués, amputés, sanglés. Carol Rama dessine alors une fantaisie autre, violente, provoquante (on peut noter en exemple une de ses toiles datant de 1944, intitulée Masturbazione). Un problème de taille dans son Italie natale, où le fascisme régnant ne tolère que les physiques désirables, taillés de surcroît par la main de l’homme tout puissant. Poupée mutine, fantasmes des artistes. Loin des normes, Carol Rama construit une autre femme. Et c'est bien là toute la différence. La poupée s'anime, la femme désire.
Carol Rama - Figura, 1949
Elle finit pourtant par courber l’échine pendant un temps et adhère, dans les années 50, au Mouvement pour l’Art Concret auprès de son ami Gillo Dorfles. Commence sa période géométrique, épurée de tout caractère personnel, et difficilement attaquable par la censure. Dix ans plus tard, elle se lance dans un tout autre registre, en donnant une seconde peau à des objets trouvés. Parmi son bric à brac, de la fourrure, des dents, des griffes ou des yeux de verres, qui donnent des allures de big brother à ses toiles. A mi-chemin entre le junk art et le nouveau réalisme, Rama continue son chemin tandis que sa carrière devient possible incarnation de l’Informe de Bataille, auteur qu’elle dit n’avoir découvert que dans les années 80.
Bepi Ghiotti, Inside Carol Rama, 2012-2014
Puis le caoutchouc devient sa muse. Un matériau qu’elle prélève des pneus de vélos provenant de l’usine de son père. De là, elle fabrique des œuvres qui rappellent un corps hybride (et où le sm n’est jamais loin), faisant d’elle une représentation parfait de la soft sculpture post minimale américaine, qui lui était alors contemporaine.
Mais le silence reste complet, étonnement même du côté des féministes. Carol Rama n’est pas oubliée, elle est inexistante. Pourtant, au-delà d’une vie douloureuse, Carol Rama n’est pas à réduire à cette simple lecture. Malgré une carrière des plus solitaires, son travail, empreint d’une rare cohérence, remet en perspective tout un pan de l’histoire de l’art du XXeme siècle, que ce soit sur la représentation de la femme ou encore les questions liées au genre.
Carol Rama et Andy Warhol
Mais le siècle change. Et elle obtient le Lion d’or de la biennale de Venise. Puis les musées ne se mettent dans l’idée de dépoussiérer son travail, ou plutôt, de le faire enfin prendre vie. Nous sommes en 2003. Elle a 85 ans. Mieux vaut tard que jamais, dira-t-on…
AN INTERVIEW WITH CAROL RAMA with Corrado Levi and Filippo Fossati.
(Torino, Carol’s Studio, september 1996)
CL: I would like to ask Carol Rama, what interests you less in life?
CR: It’s the first time that anybody asks me a question as stupid as that. What would it be like, this thing that I like less?
CL: What interests you more?
CR: I have always had to think of what I’ve liked more… what I like less… .take eating for example… no, that is not true because if there is a thing that I like I am able to eat more and feel bad. One thing that I don’t like is haughtiness in people, when they don’t even know how to value people and when they hit on you a cazzo di cane ( 1. ) continually. Like this one has been remade physically, has a low ass. That one has a small dick. That one is not worth anything. That one is a handjob. That one is a shit. As if we were always in front of the television. Unfortunately, being in front of the television is fairly true… but we don’t want it to be… this way. When I happen to be in front of the television I prefer to know that there is not a channel that is decent… this offends me because I am a simple person and I am not learned. But fortunately there are things that do piss me off. That it is my work.
CL: What do you like most in life?
CR: Painting, drawing, putting black on white on my idea that I have developed by means of a piece of news… For example the last one, I think, that I enjoyed greatly, is this drama that has been made on the mad cow. It has made me work in an extraordinary way. Also because I have impersonated this thing so much intellectually, and little that I can, erotically, I could foresee, that the mad cow is me, and this has given me a joy, an extraordinary joy.
CL: What do you fear most in life?
CR: I fear most an accident. I fear very much to be in the trauma center with a broken ass. I fear most to not have the capability to communicate with somebody… I fear speaking with an idiot… That is a thing that for me would not be even a “marchetta” ( 2. ). This is the minimum that one can think, not even of an object, not even of pleasure. But you think about an idiot, you think that he makes love well? No! I don’t believe it. The idiots, the idiots. However, they are even more afraid than we are, much more afraid. Because it would take only for one idiot to enter here and say “what’s this?” he has frightened me already. If he sees my storage. The idiot is a fragile person, Christ!
CL: What makes you laugh most in life?
CR: The absurd situations that always happen to me. Having been very poor, I have always had the capacity to laugh, for this reason: if I bought a thing and then came home and didn’t like it, but told myself “I will go tomorrow to exchange it,” when I went to change it and it was worse than the first, then I went to change it with the one I got first. But it was not there anymore because it had been bought. That is a face of sadness: not knowing how to buy things. Because to know how to buy you need to have bought many things, so that in the end I laugh. Also hearing the criticism of my friends about everybody, this amuses me a lot. I had a friend, who is very kind, more cultured than I, thank god. Graduate in calligraphy even. She said in every way that Parietti ( 3. )had remade lips. Not these here, but these here. I laughed one night because I didn’t believe that there could have been a graduate in stupidity.
CL: What makes you cry?
CR: It is not that I cry a lot, but sometimes I have a wild anguish and I have jealousy, I envy those more fortunate than I: more beautiful, younger. But it is jealousy, anger, and more when you are uglier that you feel like that. That is not evil, because then you see one of the very handsome… and finally you are not jealous anymore… Jealousy is wild, because jealousy is for whoever is more cultured, more prepared… but those things give me a lot of joy. I don’t know, when I see you or I see Edoardo and you speak of extraordinary things, you speak about inconceivable things. I am always in love. Ready to undress myself. That gives you a start of fear… It is a risk, eh!
CL: What color do you like most?
CR: Red! and black… It will be thirty years that I dress in black. Red because of something I have always wanted to have been: a bullfighter. To be male. Beautiful. Piss everyone off: men, women, children, old people, old men that duel for me… It’s crazy! Black because I have always liked myself in black. A black pillow. Even when I was young, I used to go horseback riding and I taught children to do the first obstacles, in handling. I always wore a black shirt because it gave me the idea that this ugliness of mine had a mysterious air. That of a bloodsucker, that of a deadly woman. That was at least fifty percent, the deadly woman is worth half. It’s crazy.
CL: What is the form that you like most?
CR: The dick. Because it has given me much pleasure also.
CL: What is the material you like most?
CR: A material that is very soft sheet or very hard canvas. Craggy. A material versified. Tires have given me much joy. Tires remind me of my father, the factory, they remind me of power. But then this is not completely true, because they were unimportant bicycle tires. But work for me has always been a thing that allowed me to feel less unhappy, less poor, less ugly, yes, yes, yes, and less ignorant, also. Not wanting to study, not wanting to learn, I cut school. I went everywhere. It is important not to study. Then naturally there was a moment that I repented because my parents protected me by enrolling me in Berkley. After ten days, I cut school, in grammar school, in high school, in the academy. I went to all the schools, except the school of war because you needed to be male. But I always cut, I went around to all my friends. There I found the shits, the idiots. The idiots who were making a piece of furniture, a paper glued to the wall. And they always used to make me do sketches in the servants toilet, because it was sexy. There was always a vagina and a dick, a vagina and a dick, or a urinal, or a sink. There was always a chair where the guy with the wide legs used to watch films, but he was excited. That’s why he had his legs wide. And I enjoyed myself doing these things… In fact they stole all the sketches from that time, and, I don’t have them more. When I do them now, there is so much joy in me that I feel young for a moment. Then my hand goes bad… After a little while. Thank god, now I am old. Christ! I find it always extraordinary but for the work that I have done and how I have done it. I did a picture after going to a film, a repugnant film, where there was an idiot that resembled Quasimodo, who played the piano. It was a silent film, and this happened on via Garibaldi, where there were toilets that smelled of urine so much so that there was no need for sewers. And there were people who laughed. They masturbated. They threw their hats. They bumped into one another and they called “Mariu” from one side to the other. Then I went out from there with the feeling that seemed that somebody had tried to touch my ass, I came home and I worked. That was the charge.
CL:What is the direction that you like more? From top to bottom, right to left, diagonal going up, diagonal going to the right, diagonal going down?
CR: You speak like an architect, like a cultured person.
CL: I speak like a traffic officer.
CR: Go on, you speak like you were Mies Van Der Rohe. But what traffic officer? I don’t believe you… The direction?
CL: Yes, the direction.
CR: Ah, always dick, the dick or the brain, because for me there is the dick, number one, and then intelligence.
CL: Going up? Going down?
CR: No, not going down, not really.
CL: Not really, then it changes direction. What dimensions do you like most to work with?
CR: I don’t know, 50 by 70, 70 by a meter, 2 meters by 2 meters, but I wore myself out. But not because of the size, but because of a reason that I don’t know. Madness for sure. In a small paper, I might make a big drawing and on a big painting, I might make a very little drawing. But there is a line of madness in my family, of which my mother was cured and I never was. You don’t know, for example, that feeling like the mad cow creates a sort of extraordinary security… To walk in this studio, when I turn the corner and poke my head out, it’s marvelous. At these times there is something inside of me which is very particular, because there is a program that I always watch on television “chi l'ha visto” ( 4. ) and it happens that I see some crazy assholes, incredible idiots, who commit crimes. And every once in awhile there is one crazy one who I like.
CL: What is the place that you would most like for your work? The space, a place, a gallery, a museum, a house. That is, what is the place, the site?
CR: In a museum, but if there is a possibility to sit down in front of something, to go there to pass some days of my old age… I would feel just, a stool, with a back, being 78 years old… eh, in a museum, god damnit, yes. When I was younger I would have said that there were urinals of iron. A urinal. Because I used to go around the urinals and look to see if there were good looking boys. And I could not say this if I weren’t 78. Because, I used to pass with an extreme manner that even I am not familiar with, from the stations to the churches to the street urinals, and there I could see visible the plumes of the hats of the police. These were the first sketches that I have done, yes, the plumes of the police without the urinal, nude. With the hat and nude. And I sold them immediately. I sold them to an idiot who told me that he was a surveyor and for that he wanted me to stand at attention and he was the copywriter of “Canzoniere” for Sipra ( 5. ), this was in the thirties.
CL: Who is the owner of your picture that you like most?
CL: Yes, and then, who else?
CR: Then, always you… If you had a gallery, Carol Rama thinks that you, poor little man, you would have eaten the little that you have. God damn, oh no, porcamadonna ( 6. ) is the only thing you can say, now.
CL: Would you like that in fifty years your paintings are rare and valued like those of Van Gogh, which one costs tens of millions of dollars…
CL: Or like Egon Schiele, which are a little bit more?
CR: Yes, like Schiele, like Schiele… They do not have to cost too much, because they must walk. I think that I have such an angry quality that is similar to everyone, you don’t have to be Berlitz… I really believe that this is tolerated by everyone.
CL: Do you believe that in fifty years young people will like your work? old people? middle-aged? What do you think they will like about your work?
CR: They will be liked greatly by those whom have suffered, and have not known how to save themselves from the suffering. Because, having had my mother in a psychiatric clinic and being there myself, I felt comfortable in that surrounding, Because it’s there I began to have manners and upbringing without either cultural preparation or etiquette. I believe that everyone will love those manners more, because they are manners, that for reasons that I don’t dare say, belong to all. Because folly is near to all and there are some who absolutely refute this, and those who refute it are only madmen, melancholy, sad, inaccessible. Because it is like culture. Culture is a privilege. I could have done it also, but I have always felt more drawn to drawing, to a picture, to a history, to a composition.
CL: Try to think that in fifty years there is a yellow, a yellow man, a yellow boy, a black of Africa,
CL: A young man of our culture.
CL: A viking.
CL: A mulatto.
CL: Do you think they will feel differently in respect to your paintings?
CR: I don’t know what they feel… I would fuck all five. Because instinct and pleasure are universal.
CL: Do you believe an animal would like your paintings?
CR: But with so many men that could be called by that family name, I believe no. Unfortunately. I like the cow because she is a lunatic, and because she makes erotic gestures like crazy and because she has extraordinary similarities with us… at least with me.
CL: In which open landscape would you like to see your picture?
CR: An open landscape?
CL: A jungle, a desert, a pier, a glacier.
CR: A glacier, a glacier, because it is unique in transforming itself in little time… A glacier.
CL: Would you like to ask Carol Rama a question?
FF: Why have you chosen a such profoundly radical manner in which to be an artist?
CR: Ah, to allot my folly in extraordinary way. Meanwhile, I believe that we are all mad, but for me, rational like myself is rare. Because I am truly a premeditated lunatic, yes. Without a doubt, when I come back home after spending an evening with friends, not those two or three who are exceptional… I say to myself that I am surrounded by lunatics. But I am too! But different, because mine is a trained folly, and I know that I must not avail… that is, I must not take advantage of the desire to take myself, I don’t know, to masturbation. Because otherwise, I feel the desire to die with this masturbation, I mean, the desire to go to the cinema. Then I go in one, then in another… I don’t, don’t even watch the movies that they play. It doesn’t mean anything… It’s my mania that’s always been crazy, to repeat myself in gesture… Then at times, I try to be rational, to pay more attention… For me and for my body.
CL: What noise would you like for your paintings?
CR: Noise is maybe the only thing that I can’t bear, because it happens sometimes… Sometimes each of us hears noises, like those you hear when they fix the streets. Fairly recently they were putting threads for the cables for what I don’t know. Maybe for the telephone. And there was noise that was not only like the trash pick-up, which after a quarter of an hour is gone, but a noise for days. And so I took some tranquilizers and earplugs, and then when I had the earplugs and the tranquilizers I listened because an anger was born in me that I don’t even know when I am mortified to not have the money to pay the rent. So I put myself to bed, I pretended not to exist, I didn’t open the door… This is cowardliness. No, then I hope to sell a small thing and put myself in order. Noise is an example of something that I can not bear.
CL: How would you like it if your paintings were driven by a chauffeur?
CR: No, he can drive me!… A limousine with a chauffeur who is the most cultured person that I know. To have the joy of seeing him from behind, from the front, to pass in front, to pass behind. I would also drive, learning to drive, god damnit, finally… with the driver’s hat, I feel so young I could die… Instead, now that I am old, I have to take care not to stumble, or to be in the hospital, not to be like those people who when they phone I have to invent some illness. She tells me that her feet hurt and I tell her that my ass hurts, I say that I have a bad heart, she tells me about her shoulder, then the cervical. You got it. Then we go on with this discussion.. In the end, I am sick. And when I am a little sick, it makes me afraid, even a small illness, and I see myself already in my casket… And to make the curve on the stairway to take me out, and I am upset to leave this fucking studio… I’ve been here for sixty years.
CL: Is there a painting that you have never painted and that you would like to make?
CR: The next.
CL: If you could make a gift of your paintings to the person you like most, and you could give a period of your work, not one painting, but many, what would you give?
CR: The mad cow. For me these are extraordinary self-portraits, extraordinary, not because they are beautiful, but the idea of these tits and bull dicks, this way of seeing the anatomy of everybody in shared parts, extreme.
( 1.) to do something “at” the dick of the dog
( 2. ) implying the money paid to a prostitute for services
( 3.) Italian anchorwoman
( 4. ) the Italian version of the American “Most Wanted”
( 5. ) the chorus for government approved advertising in radio and television
( 6. ) pork the virgin mother
translation by Jennifer Bacon
published on IMPRESA # 4. Carol Rama
with texts by Paolo and Filippo Fossati, Ingrid Schaffner, Corrado Levi and a poem by Edoardo Sanguineti, January 1997 .
copyright Esso Gallery
Le musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris consacre actuellement, pour la première fois, une retrospective de l'artiste italienne, visible jusqu'au 12 juillet.