November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Pay It Forward

Reese's-Rosie, by Mel Ramos

Reese’s-Rosie, by Mel Ramos



Mel Ramos and Gabriel Navar

By    Dr. José Rodeiro,

Coordinator of Art History,
New Jersey City University, Jersey City, New Jersey.

The “Pay It Forward” art exhibition is an inspiring look at a remarkable mentor/mentee relationship initiated in 1991, when Gabriel Navar enrolled in Mel Ramos’s “Painting 1” course at California State University, East Bay.  Additionally, the show provides insight into the California School’s stylistic legacy: a continuum from one generation to the next, charting an art historical trajectory marked by the four great sequoias of Bay-Area painting: Richard Diebenkorn, Wayne Thiebaud, Mel Ramos and Gabriel Navar.  Thereby acknowledging “a” generous artistic inheritance genially passed down from Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) to Wayne Thiebaud, and then from Thiebaud to Ramos, and manifesting in the 21st Century in Navar’s oeuvre.


Express Nonsense 2, Gabriel Navar

Express Nonsense 2, Gabriel Navar, 2012

Since the 1960s, Ramos (more than any other US-artist) vividly envisioned imaginative Pop Art fantasies (which in truth) pioneered an early groundbreaking form of radical-Postmodernism.  This merger of Pop Art with radical-Postmodernism is evident in his images that ingeniously reference the old masters (i.e., Botticelli, Velazquez, Boucher, David, Ingres, Manet, Bonnard and Modigliani). In fact, not since Modigliani and Matisse has a painter so appropriately apprehended the sublime sensuality of feminine beauty as Ramos has.   Ramos’s signature Pop Art style consistently depicts sensual female subjects posing (in pin-up poses) alongside icons of “The America Dream” (i.e., commercial products, groceries, animals, and other mass-media props).  A sublime Neo-Classicist unconsciously inspired by muses (especially Erato, the muse of sexuality and music), his art is simultaneously lyrical and monumental; these marvelous contradictory aesthetic tendencies are also apparent in all the great California Rock ‘n’ Roll songs generated by The Beach Boys, The Mamas & the Papas, The Grateful Dead and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.   Ramos is unquestionably the only contemporary visual artist that has boldly endeavored to metaphorically portray the Jeffersonian “The Pursuit of Happiness,” while symbolically approximating or pursuing (via his art) an authentic and unfeigned California-version of “The American Dream.”

Richard Diebenkorn's  "Cityscape", 1963

Richard Diebenkorn’s “Cityscape”, 1963


Unlike Ramos, muses do not inspire the disturbing and bizarre images of Gabriel Navar, whose motivation, according to Federico Garcia Lorca’s essay The Play and Theory of the Duende (1933), probably derives from a confluence of angels/devils.   Yet, despite Navar’s obvious fascination with the apparent (although poorly veiled) underlying Gothic horror of American life, which is described throughout US literature, i.e., Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, Henry James, Edith Wharton and John Updike; Navar’s  viewers must be warned that (like a cobra) he captivates his audience with shocking images that intrigue, and then, unexpectedly forces unsuspecting viewers to confront their deepest fear(s).  Via Youtube™ references and “platforms,” he generates innovative and new “push/pull” effect(s) that satirically afford an iconological critique leveled against high-tech media-culture with its glut of visual information, intending to brainwash, control, side-track, seduce and/or sell something to intended audiences.  Navar’s Web-based imagery examines 21st century technophilia, which utterly permeates contemporary social-consciousness, manifesting as web-surfing; participating in numerous social networking sites, enjoying chronic Youtube™ viral-phenomena, or roaming through the vast world of “apps.”


Pay it Forward

Pay It Forward

If Ramos is lyrically (musically) and harmoniously painting the “American Dream,” then Navar is poetically depicting the “American Nightmare.”  By analyzing 21st Century digital communication, smart applications, and other Habermasian ideal-communication EtherNet intrusions, Navar offers a techno-world where sadomasochistic self-victimization and hyper-alienation accentuate isolation and paranoia, similar to the prophetic Mexican Surrealist poems of Octavio Paz, Juan Rulfo, or the Italian Metaphysical School paintings of Georgio DeChirico, as well as is evident in Diebenkorn’s lonely and abandoned stark California coastline vistas.   Thus, the California School is split between the bright hopeful optimism of Ramos and Thiebaud; and the empty tragic despair that haunts the paintings of Diebenkorn (conveying distant vast sociological alienation) or Navar’s panache for dramatic confrontation (devising and divulging intimate domestic psychological alienation).



app_4_beingdistrac2, Gabriel Navar, 2011

Notwithstanding their clear distinctions, Ramos and Navar have numerous things in common, e.g., they both challenge innate US-Puritanical-conservativism; both create prolifically with an energetic inborn work-ethic;  both utilize “high-key” clashing, pulsating, and intense “punchy” chroma; both predominantly employ human figures in their work (unlike  Diebenkorn with his vistas and Thiebaud with his bodegones), Ramos and Navar exploit advertising, billboards, logos, products (subliminal merchandise sales-strategies) and their art is constantly alluding to pop-culture.  Their formal compositions rely generally on “centralized” monumental heroic figural images, replete with subtle or abrupt emblematic iconology (for Ramos, sexuality, sensuality, seduction and erotic-fantasies are key elements); while Navar transmits, in a “tongue-in-cheek” manner, prospective horror-film-scenes, which capture both sinister and, at times, comical human dramas.  These Navarian dramas are disturbing scenes from a “new” hyper-technological Neo-Theater of the Absurd, signifying irrational, nihilistic, and anxiety-ridden Post-Information Age vignettes that fosters alienation, and “Neo-neosurrealism.”

* * *

406  14th Street.
Curated by Eric Murphy and Woody Johnson
June 1- July 28, 2012OPENING RECEPTION: June 1 (6:00 PM- 9:00 PM)
Contact:   Eric Murphy, 510-465-8928
Gabriel Navar interviews mentor Mel Ramos!

1 comment

1 Mel Ramos Discusses the Artist/Teacher Life | { 05.12.12 at 5:37 pm }

[…] Editor’s Note: The Pay It Forward exhibition is scheduled to take place in Oakland at: JOYCE GORDON GALLERY 406  14th Street. OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA Curated by Eric Murphy and Woody Johnson June 1- July 28, 2012 OPENING RECEPTION: June 1 (6:00 PM- 9:00 PM) Contact:   Eric Murphy, 510-465-8928   For more about the exhibition, see: […]