The Trickster, 1962 signed, titled, inscribed and dated '"THE TRICKSTER" 1962 MEL RAMOS. SACRAMENTO CALIF.' (on the reverse) oil on canvas 44 x 50 in. (111.7 x 127cm)
PROVENANCE: Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 1962.
EXHIBITED: Sacramento, Crocker Art Museum, Mel Ramos: Fifty Years of Superheroes, Nudes and other Pop Art Delights, 2 June-21 October 2012 (illustrated in color, p. 25).
LITERATURE: D. Kuspit, Mel Ramos: Pop Art Fantasies, The Complete Paintings, New York 2004 (illustrated in color, p. 45). T. Levy, Mel Ramos: Heroines, Goddesses, Beauty Queens, Bielefield 2002 (illustrated in color, p. 125).
Mel Ramos' The Trickster By Louis K. Meisel
In mid-1961, at the beginning of what would be called "Pop Art", Mel Ramos produced what we would consider his first true mature image. That very well-known painting is Superman, and it displays a style and technique which Ramos has been identified with ever since. Superman was the fourth of just seven paintings completed that year, and it was the first true Pop painting that the artist produced. Followed by Batman, these paintings were straight out of the comic books, and in every way related to the commercial images of Andy Warhol, the cartoons of Roy Lichtenstein, and the word paintings of Ed Ruscha, not to mention the few others all hitting stride in 1961 and 1962.
1962 was a productive and exciting year for Ramos. He painted twenty-seven works (only ever exceeded by 1964 when he produced thirty-six paintings). The eleventh painting that year was The Trickster, which came right after the second Superman, Man of Steel, and immediately before the very first female image. Prior to painting The Trickster, Ramos's earlier subjects were all "Super Heroes". The Trickster is the first aberration in the series in that the character portrayed was a "super villain". An antithesis to "The Flash" (another subject of Ramos'), "The Trickster" was a brand-new character introduced by DC Comics in mid-1960 and would have been unfamiliar to contemporary individuals outside of the current generation of comic book readers. Recognizable for his ability to walk on air, the "Trickster" often wore a Harlequin suit, two aspects that Ramos carefully captured in his own depiction of the conman. While it seems significant now that The Trickster was a break from good guy to bad guy, this transition was a merely precursor to the introduction of the FEMALE Super Hero or Heroine in Ramos' imagery, as his next painting was of Miss LibertyFrontier Heroine, and this was probably the more significant breakthrough.
In total, there are about 50 Ramos paintings executed between mid-1961 through the close of 1964 which are historically important as main-line center Pop Art works that embody the imagery and paint handling for which Ramos will primarily be knownThe Trickster included. This is a very small output when compared to any or all of the other painters with which he was associated, shown, and ultimately was close friends with. Of these fifty works, only a dozen paintings are as large as The Trickster, which measures 44 x 50 inches. The Trickster also stands out as Ramos's first villain; it is one of the most colorful and attractive, and it incorporates the most motion depicted.
The glorious thick colorful paint epitomized in the treatment of The Trickster is indicative of Ramos's early works and his training. While most of the other artists to be defined as Pop Artists were in and from, or working in New York or Southern California, Ramos was isolated in the Bay area, and was able to develop an independent Pop style that featured heavy brushwork as inspired by his mentor Wayne Thiebaud. Thus, one major difference that emerged between Ramos and the other Pop artists was his use of very thickly applied oil paint on canvas as opposed to the very flat and featureless surface of all the others.
While there has been a lot of market activity for the artist with many works changing collections (as is true of much of Pop art), it is interesting to note that The Trickster has been in one collection since it left the artist's studio and its condition reflects that.
Mel Ramos is now 78, and he is one of very few Pop Artists still painting. Over the course of his sixty year career, he has not yet produced 800 paintings, and it is unlikely he will exceed 1000 paintings total, which is minuscule number for an artist of his importance and genre. As such, each individual painting becomes a bit more important and this is most certainly true of the artwork that he created in the sixties.
As a final comment, it is interesting to note that due to his focus on the nude from about 1966 on, Ramos and Tom Wesselmann were prudishly absent from many exhibitions and museum collections of the times. This "stigma" followed them both for decades, suppressing their markets and price structures in relation to their contemporaries. With Wesselmann's untimely death and Ramos' recent retrospective that travelled across seven major European museums to celebrate his 75th birthday, there has been a strong market resurgence and demand for both of these important innovators.