Carol Rama’s Ovale Nero (Black Oval) (1961) is pocked and marked, its monochromatic surface textured and tactile. Hidden beneath the black paint is a range of domestic objects, such as doll’s eyes or teeth. In appropriating found objects, then abstracting them beyond recognition, Rama’s creative process for Ovale Nero and other black paintings of the 1960s follows on her earlier representational works of the 1930s and ’40s and previews her later use of rubber tires to create textured, geometric works in the 1970s.
There is an explicit challenge in Rama’s work. In 1945, for example, the earliest exhibition of her figurative sketches in Turin was shut down by the Fascist government. In her black paintings, including Ovale Nero, violence is implied in her surface treatments and in her use of thick impasto. This work shimmers and breaks, creating a lunar-like surface marked with the traces of its own production, but also sinking in on itself. This push and pull of building up and breaking down is the overwhelming impact of Ovale Nero.
Carol Rama was a self-taught Italian artist who is best recognized for her watercolors depicting often bold and provocative expressions of sexuality and sexual actions. Rama’s first solo show at the Gallery Faber in Turin, in 1945, was shut down by the fascist government and many of her works were seized by the Turin police. Only in 1980, following an exhibition at the Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace) in Milan, did her early works become known to a larger audience. After that, her erotic drawing again became her primary theme. During the 1950s Rama’s paintings moved toward abstraction and during the 1960s she started to create multimedia works by incorporating found objects and everyday materials. In the 1970s among paint and text, syringes, cannulae, glass beads, and fingernails, her preferred material became rubber from tires. In the late 1960s and early 1970s Rama was in contact with such notable artists as Man Ray (1890–1976), Andy Warhol (1928–1987), and Orson Welles (1915–1985). In 2003 she was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale.