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Zoe Williams on Carol Rama’s Psychosexual Melodramas

‘I love the sense of compulsion and joy present in this painting’

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Carol Rama, Opera N.11 (Renards) (Opera N.11, Foxes), 1938, watercolour on paper, 72 x 47 cm. Courtesy: © Carol Rama Archive, Turin and MoMA, New York; photograph: Elisabeth Bernstein

I have been obsessed with the urgent, pulsating watercolours of Carol Rama since discovering them during my fine art studies in the early 2000s. Rama’s psychosexual melodramas take place in a flurry of lolling tongues, false teeth, high heels with hot, fleshy, phallus-like innards, half-alive fox furs, turds, pretty snakes and ecstatic genitalia. These symbolic fragments indelicately repeat over and over, creating a joyful cabaret of the fetish. The dislocated signifiers visualize a list-like personal vocabulary exploring the polarities of desire. Rama’s establishment of a glossary of private symbols has been a major influence on the way I approach the objects and imagery that I work with. For this reason, it is hard for me to choose just one of the works to talk about, but Opera N.11 (Renards) (Opera N.11, Foxes) is one that I return to often.

I love the sense of compulsion and joy present in this painting, which, in some ways, is like the constellation of fleshy images that one might see in moments of extreme intimacy with your own body or with another’s. The desire to consume and break up the female, male and animal body, as well as inanimate objects, represents, to me, a woman’s perspective on the chaotic power and potency of sexuality and a kind of sacred debasement or passion.

Published in Frieze Masters, issue 7, 2018, with the title ‘Artist's Artists’.

Zoe Williams lives in London, UK. This year, she has had a solo show at Galerie Antoine Levi, Paris, France, and her work has been included in group shows at Kunstraum, London, and Centre Régional d’Art Contemporain Occitanie, Sète, France.

Issue 7

First published in Issue 7

September 2018
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