The Naked Eye

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At 76, Ramos says he is more productive than ever. He wakes early, eats breakfast, and then paints. And paints. A canvas of, say, 15 square feet, such as the current cigar nude depicting Brooklyn Decker, can take approximately 10 working days to complete. By his family’s telling, he will miss a meal if not coerced from his studio, or brought his food there. And as evidenced by the recent Anderson and Porsche commissions, his work is also in demand by notable collectors.

The list of celebrity collectors includes longtime locals like Tower Records founder Russ Solomon, who once traded Ramos a stereo system for a 1965 painting of a nude on a block of Monterey Jack cheese called Monterey Jackie (which will appear in the Crocker show), and continued collecting his works even after he learned about the many 45s that Ramos had lifted from Tower’s private listening booths (each outfitted with a turntable) in his younger days.

Other notable collectors of Ramos’ paintings have included the Oscar-winning actress Eva Marie Saint (On the Waterfront and North by Northwest), Guess Jeans co-founder Georges Marciano and none other than Sir Paul McCartney, who bought one of Ramos’ well-known “keyhole” paintings of a Playboy playmate.

"Peek-A-Boo Pamela Anderson," the painting the actress commissioned but never paid for. (Image courtesy Louis K. Meisel Gallery)

Peek-A-Boo Pamela Anderson, the painting the actress commissioned but never paid for. (Image courtesy Louis K. Meisel Gallery
 

But celebrities aren’t always the collectors; often they’re the subjects. Many of Ramos’ pieces feature the likenesses of stars like Uma Thurman, Angelina Jolie, Cameron Diaz and Scarlett Johansson, but none actually posed for the works or even agreed to them. And not all of them have been happy about it.

Take supermodel Claudia Schiffer, whom Ramos portrayed nude (using her face, but a different woman’s body) reclining on a hot dog in 1995. As it happens, the piece was shown in Germany, where Schiffer lives, and the gallery owner had changed the piece’s name from the original Doggie Dinah. “This idiot called it Claudia,” says

Ramos’ dealer Meisel. “So she went to court, and they seized the show and asked for [the painting] to be destroyed.” The piece was eventually released under the condition that it not be shown again.

Of course, there was the one celebrity fan who actually commissioned a work of herself: Pamela Anderson. “It was supposed to be $250,000,” says Meisel. “She claimed that she couldn’t afford that. So I said, ‘OK, [we’ll take] $150,000 and you will then let Mel do eight more paintings of you using your name.’ And she said, ‘OK.’ ” Anderson never ended up paying that either.

But the deal wasn’t a total bust.

One of the two paintings that Ramos has done so far was sold in Vienna for $250,000, and the other in South Korea (neither Meisel nor Ramos knows for how much). So if you’re in the market for an original Ramos Anderson, there is still an opportunity to commission one. “If a collector comes to me and says, ‘I’d love a Pamela Anderson,’ ” says Meisel, “I’ll show that collector 40 to 80 pictures, and say, ‘Tell us which one you like, and Mel will figure out how to get it into a painting for you.’ ”

Payment, however, will be expected in advance.