Carol Rama: Snooping Inside Her Difficult Life & Emotive Art

Carol Rama, famously known for her erotic abstract depictions, was an Italian artist from the 1900s who created a legacy through audacious figures and themes of daily life.

Carol Rama

From the shadows of the Alps in the northwestern region of Piedmont shines a woman artist whose art was astonishingly contradictory but beautiful and meaningful. The fascinating historic center, which consists of hundreds of mesmerizing cafes, world-class museums, galleries, and monuments, is none other than Turin, a region, which witnessed some of the great artist paintings and the origination of a few substantial companies like Lavazza. Well, I am certainly not here to talk about the city, which is an active hotspot for travelers majorly because of its fabulous Baroque architecture, but about an artist who rose from the shores of the city. Carol Olga Rama commonly known as Carol Rama, an artist who was born in Turin on 18 September 1917 and worked in the studio in Via Napione on the banks of the Po, is a central figure of the Italian Transavanguardia. Before you confuse it with the heavy term Transavanguardia, let me tell you that it denotes a movement in which the artist aims to free him or herself from tradition and previous experience.

The 50th Venice Biennale awarded Carol Rama the Golden Lion for her excellent work. Insolent and delightful, a creature with a Fellinian appearance who caused uproar in Italy with twists and turns throughout her artistic career, Carol is scandalous but an icon of feminist art. I will let you know why she is often used with the adjective calumniatory to describe her artworks in later sections of the article. In homage to the legendary artist, let us bring together Carol’s nearly 70 years of artistic creation through this read.

Looking at the Life of Carol Rama.

Carol Rama was an artist who showed herself to be an audacious painter, employing abstract and figurative means to compose her artworks. She used different techniques to paint so as to take her art beyond the realm of reality and challenge the usual accepted values.

ArtistCarol Olga Rama
BornSeptember 18, 1917 (many indicated in her biographies to 1916 or 1918, as she rejected number 17).
DeathSeptember 2015
GenreErotic Abstract Art
PeriodPlastic Art

Carol spent a comfortable childhood as they led a prosperous bourgeois due to her father’s business of car components, significant for the automotive companies of the period. From taking riding lessons to singing opera arias, she had all the fun which displays her family’s favorable economic conditions. In 19 Digione Street, Carol used to pose as a model for Gemma Vercelli. And sooner, she determined to include painting and drawing in her life. When Carol was in her twenties, her family appeared to suffer from the definitive collapse of the business as the serious global economic downturn recorded. As a result of the family’s drastic economic changes, the mother, Marta, after undergoing a short period of neurological discomfort resulting in hospitalization in Turin’s “I due pini” clinic, finds herself forced to begin her own business in 1933 with the name “retail sales of fashion and novelty items, clothing and furs.”

Italian artist Carol Olga Rama
Carol Olga Rama, Photo | Source: Pino Dell’Aquila, via Wikimedia Commons

After completing compulsory school, Carol Rama enrolled at the Academy to continue her studies, but she didn’t finish it, being reluctant to self-teach. Additionally, she developed a passion for painting as an adolescent, using recycled materials for her paintings.

When she was eighteen, she painted Nonna Carolina, which is now preserved at the Civic Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Turin. After this painting, she painted more watercolor and oil paintings, characterized by dense chromatic pastes. Among the subjects, there is a particular emphasis on characters, situations, and objects that have a real counterpart in Rama’s life. And many among them had explicit sexual connotations with an elegant Schiele style.

Nonna Carolina Carol Rama
Nonna Carolina (Grandma Carolina in English) by Carol Rama | Source: Google Arts & Culture

In the early forties, the artist faced many challenges. She was deeply attached to her father, who died in 1942, possibly by suicide. She painted a few touching watercolor portraits of him in the years before he died. A heavy bombing campaign in Turin resulted in Carol, Emma, and their mother being forced to flee to Case Rama from 1942 to 1943. As a result of these tough times, production of work drastically decreased.

The first exhibition in 1945 created quite a scandal in Carol’s life. The sight of phalluses and vaginas in all their forms, women masturbating between prostheses and wheelchairs, penises perched on high heels – it was a sight that post-war Italy could not handle. And so, shortly after its opening, the Italian government intervened to shut down the exhibition.

Carol Rama said in one of her interviews,

“The police came and closed the gallery. All my paintings are gone. A bandit is what I always wanted to be. But maybe I’d better keep quiet. He enjoys a fascinating freedom that I never had.”

However, she was such confident and rebellious that she showed all her erotic fantasies against a backdrop of war and rape.

Carol interned in psychiatry and understood the repressive nature of the institution. In her artworks, Carol Rama explores female pleasures and sensuality behind clinic bars with great respect. It becomes a battleground for the erotic lives of excluded women.

Carol says,

“Madness is not something foreign. It is in each of us, more or less morbid, more or less open. What madness to believe you are safe, on the right side of the fence!”

Briefly Looking at a Few of the Carol Rama’s Paintings.

In the early 1930s, Carol’s career began with drawings, watercolors, and oil paintings, which were incredible and really had decent subject matter. During this time, she did not know figurative art and continued the academic tradition, tending towards social realism. However, they did upset the conventional order of the middle-class Turin. Some of the works from the period are Grandmother Carolina, Little Brooms, and Work 15, False Teeth, which were not shown to the public until 1979 at the Galleria Martano, Turin. Interestingly, these were part of the 1945 exhibition, which was not displayed due to censorship problems.

False Teeth Carol Rama Paintings
False Teeth by Carol Rama | Source: The New Museum / via Dazed

In 1939, just before the outbreak of World War 2, Carol painted Glass Bubbles, where she applied colors with a palette knife using unusual brutalism. One of the specialties of her 1930s work Carol is that she used familiar images from domestic spheres and figurative ghosts alternating anxiously and obsessively. As the Freudian Id expresses, she utters,

“things one cannot say, things one cannot do.”

Some have argued that these female fantasies, portrayed as wheelchair-bound women or mysterious victims crowned with floral garlands, have a bloody aggressiveness to them. Carol also depicts rejected objects and situations, such as mutilations, prosthetics, razors, and urinals, because she loves them, and they are reminiscent of childhood. She carries them back to the world of her childhood. These objects were merely instinctive and visceral, and the themes and motifs were erotic and subversive.

Appassionata [Passionate] by Carol Rama
Appassionata [Passionate] by Carol Rama | Source: © Archivio Carol Rama, Turin. Photo by Gabriele Gaidano

One of the post-war paintings, Of the Parks, depicts the figurative presence with grotesque phantoms of a tragic and visionary reality with desecrated forms. And then, finally, in the 1950s, her independent works passed to an abstract phase that filled her canvases with quadrangular forms (like rhomboids and lozenges) lunar backgrounds, and even gave life to the cosmic world.

In the 1960s, Carol created a series of Bricolages, which means Do-it-yourself works. She sometimes composed through the use of diverse paint and organic materials like needles, nails, teeth, and glass eyes. She described these works,

“I put them there with rage, those nails should scratch.”

And then, in the 1970s, she used more formal solutions through her abstract sphere. Some of the specialties of her compositions from this era are that the colored marks generally disappear, monochrome surfaces highlight the objects generally old and bicycle tires, and symbols of suffering and rejection. One of the paintings, which is a good example is War is Abstract from 1970.

In the 1980s, Carol returned to her ambiguous and disturbing themes where she showed monstrous and deformed images of Luciferian angels of sadistic and ironic toads of chimeras and winged beings. Maps and Pictures is a good example from this era.

Final Words.

The paintings of Carol Rama are an inspiration. She says,

“I paint to heal myself, I speak of healing for having fornicated in the world of fears without limitations.”

She got late recognition in her career, as one of the critics declares her long apprenticeship of introspection as nomadic fragmentism. Because of her obsessive things, presence, and diverse forms with significant values of color, her artworks are magical and fantasy, which portray a great sense of emotion to the viewer.


1. Interview of Carol Rama by Ogniana Film.

2. Dictionary of Women Artists [Volume 2] by Delia Gaze.

Frequently Asked Questions.

Who was Carol Rama?

Carol Rama was an Italian abstract artmaker known for her erotic depictions in the 20th century. Challenging reality and values, she was an audacious painter who once sparked controversy over her sexual depictions, hurting the sentiments of post-war Italy and causing the Italian government to shut down her exhibition.

When did Carol Rama die?

Carol Rama passed away in September 2015.

What nationality was Carol Rama?



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