Sacramento-born, Oakland-based pop artist Mel Ramos died Oct. 14 of congestive heart failure. He was 83.
The artist, famous for his paintings of superheroes and nude women emerging from candy bar wrappers, martini glasses and other commercial products, was part of the pop art movement that began in the 1960s.
Ramos was born in 1935 in Sacramento. He studied under Wayne Thiebaud at Sacramento City College (then Sacramento Junior College). He went on to receive his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Sacramento State, and taught for more than 30 years at CSU East Bay after teaching at Elk Grove and Mira Loma high schools, as well as Sacramento State. Ramos has worked out of Oakland for many years and his daughter, Rochelle Leininger, manages his studio.
D. Oldham Neath runs the Archival Gallery on Folsom Boulevard where Ramos held hometown shows about once a year, the most recent in May of this year. She’s also an old friend.
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Neath said that when Ramos began painting nudes, he “caught a lot of flak” from feminists.
“But I always loved that work,” Neath said. “I always thought they were strong and forceful, important people. Mel didn’t see women like that.”
In 2012, the Crocker Art Museum held a retrospective for Ramos’ works.
“It was a super show,” said Leininger. “He saw works that were loaned, that he hadn’t seen in years.”
Leininger said that growing up with Ramos was “awesome.”
“It was an incredible, liberating way to grow up,” she said. “He was super creative and open about what he did. Super dedicated, day in and day out, regardless of whether people liked it or not.”
His work has been displayed in galleries across the U.S. and world, and is especially popular in Germany and Spain, where Ramos kept a summer home, said Neath.
Leininger likened his image in Europe to that of a “rock star.”
“They find the humor in his art. ... They love his work and show up to his exhibitions in droves,” Leininger said. “We were just in (Germany) last month and people were waiting for him to get out of the taxi to get his autograph.”
Despite international fame, Leininger said, Ramos always had a soft spot for his hometown.
“He was super proud of Sacramento,” Leininger said. “He talks about it, he writes about it. He was always so proud to talk about Sacramento.”
In addition to Rochelle, Ramos is survived by his wife, Leta, and his son, Skot.