Last summer, Carlos Ramos embraced his love of Stanley Kubrick's film in his show "Kubrick" at Bergamot Station's Copro Gallery (see "Carlos Ramos Reinterprets Stanley Kubrick's Greatest Film Moments"). While working on that show, a new inspiration hit him-- David Bowie.
"I was painting a Kubrick piece when Bowie's 'Drive-In Saturday' came on over my speakers," said Ramos, adding that he typically "blasts" music or Howard Stern while he's painting.
"And I just stood up and said to myself, 'Bowie. Fuckin' Bowie..' and that was it."
Ramos' next show "Bowie" opens October 15 at Rotofugi Gallery, which is, unfortunately for us, in Chicago. However, he gave us a sneak peek of his newest paintings at his Silver Lake studio last week.
Though Ramos, an award-winning animator whose painting career took off when he and artist Tim Biskup launched the Burning Brush auctions at Bigfoot Lodge several years ago, was initially inspired by Bowie's glam rock years, his pieces go far beyond the earlier portion of the 1970s. As with "Kubrick," Ramos is taking one icon and depicting him through decades of work. Despite this, though, the two shows are quite different.
"With 'Kubrick,' you are just trying not to screw up, since his eye was so precise and exact. It really became a show of spacial relationships and environments which was new to me since most of my paintings focus on the subject more than what's behind it," he explained. "On 'Bowie' I was able to go back to having the character be the focus. And, with Bowie, how can you look at anything else?"
Bowie presents an interesting challenge. Here, you have a musician whose work he often chose to present through a series of characters, Ziggy Stardust being the most easily recognizable example. He's also an actor whose roles are oftentimes difficult to separate from him (how many times have you referred to "Bowie from The Hunger" instead of the character's name, John?). In more recent years, Bowie has appeared as a character portrayed by other actors (Jemaine Clement on Flight of the Conchords, James Urbaniak on The Venture Bros.). With David Bowie, the line between fiction and reality is never quite clear, and that has ultimately paved the way for so many artists who followed.
"Marilyn Manson and Lady Gaga, I think because of David Bowie, are kind of allowed to come out as personas where not necessarily people, they're these caricatures," said Ramos. "They get to do these interviews where the answers are odd and they kind of get to sit in the dressing room, put on a crazy costume. It's costume-play. As soon as you dress up as something, you get to walk out and people treat you like you're in costume and you get to act accordingly. I think that's acceptable now because of people like Bowie."
But Bowie, unlike many others, has more than forty years of stage and screen roles, many radically different from one another, to his credit. This poses stylistic questions for an artist whose show is essentially inspired by the singer's entire career. We asked Ramos if he thought his paintings took on different styles as he depicted different eras of the David Bowie image.
"I actually got panicked halfway through painting the show that maybe the styles of the different paintings based on the eras of Bowie would throw people maybe making them think this was a group show," Ramos confessed. "But, soon I just got over it and figured my paintings will always look like my stuff. At least I hope so."
We were left wondering whether there could be a "Bowie, Pt. 2" on the horizon. Ramos couldn't answer this conclusively, but seemed open to the idea, saying, "There's definitely more to do. I didn't stop and say that's enough Bowie."
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