Crazy Life

Italian artist Carol Rama, now 86, has been controversial since 1945

woman with bicycle tires around her body
The title of this work means “impassioned,” and is one in a series of watercolours. This drawing is likely based on Rama’s childhood recollections of her ill mother. The pointed tongue is a reference to Rodin’s use of pointy tongues in his sculptures./ Images courtesy of Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo and Galleria Franco Masoero, Italy

“Everything and nothing is autobiographical. I don’t know who the person in Appassionata (see opposite) is. She could be a model, an actress, a fantasy. . . . The shoes and the floral crown are part of her outfit. I have looked at and known many beautiful and intelligent women, like Greta Garbo, Paulette Goddard, Ingrid Bergman. Their charms have certainly inspired me. But I am the one who inhabits the person that I paint, and I am the one who decides the décor. I have never done abstraction, though in the fifties I gave up on the figurative style. But for those who are capable of seeing it, the subject is always the same.

“I am eighty-six now and I have been painting since I was seven years old. I was born into it, the art world. When I work, I’m in a type of Eden. Even now, I spend my days splendidly: food, potty, beddy-byes, and work. I have never worried about the public’s reaction to my art, even at the beginning. Whoever wanted to understand, understood. I suppose even nowadays someone might find my work too explicit, but I’m not interested in stupid people. The world, after all, has always paid little attention to my art.

“I agree that Appassionata looks very contemporary and it could be mistaken as a painting by a new young artist, even though I painted it more than sixty years ago. But I don’t think someone not familiar with my work would be shocked to find out my age. Why shocked ? The artist’s age changes the meaning of a work only if the artist is naive or stupid. Otherwise nothing changes. When I think of the attention I’ve been getting these last few years—since I won the Leone d’ore award two years ago at the Venice Biennale, and so late in my career—I feel sadness. It leaves me somewhat stunned: all of this now!? I can’t complain, though, about how the art world has treated me throughout my life.”

Carol Rama