I went to India once. Saw the most extreme poverty and heart-wrenching crush of humanity I’ve ever experienced and I really have no desire to go back. Having said that, I did come away appreciating some weird intangibles about the place. The monkeys that would steal your stuff, the betel spit, the orgasm of color, the waves of people and beggars, the poop. Oh the poop. People crapping in the streets, wading in rivers of excrement to fill their water jugs, crapping on the roadside and waving at passerby. It’s a culture shock, but I’m getting off topic.
The point is the experience sticks with you. I took a nap in a nook of the Taj Mahal and awoke to discover my fever had broken and I wanted to get back together with an ex-girlfriend... for example. I’m certainly not saying it’s a magical wonderland or anything, far from it. It’s a very corrupt, alien, scary place a lot of the time but once you get into its logic system, once you adapt to paying a guy to tie your shoes and another to lick your stamps it does ply a certain kind of strange seduction on you.
Carlos Ramos certainly seems to’ve been at the tender mercies of India, which also happens to be the title of his new show at Corey Helford Gallery in Culver City. “India” that is, not... ‘tender mercies of India’.
The color is what first struck me as I walked into the gallery. Much more vibrant than his last show (“Natural History”), the colors leapt from the walls in much as they do under the Red Fort at Agra, the Pink City of Jaipur or the urine-soaked back alleys of Chennai. It’s an idealized vision of India’s history and mythology as seen through a Mickey Mouse costume head, and one can’t help but be enchanted with what would be the perfect India of Ramos’ vision. Balanced and sensuous, the subjects take on a mid-modernist caricature that threatens to veer into the kind of post-modern irony that has become de riguer and frankly overdone, but the artist’s background in animation helped, I think, to bring a relatable element into the work. The style invokes early Chuck Jones (Looney Tunes), then bends the lines even more to create a highly stylized and fluid geometery that seems to move according to the films that might’ve served as inspiration.
One head, two heads, three heads pop up in Lota Champisage. The large jungle cat’s tongue laps at the water in The Extinct Tiger of Delhi and the belly dancer’s voluptuous hips sway under the blue glow of a lantern in Raqs Baladi.
The show is much more about the spirit of India than the place itself. There’s no early Van Gogh peasants at the dinner table, no dirt under the finger-nails. Which is, perhaps, as it should be. When thinking back on my trip I remember the exquisite miniature paintings I saw in Mughal palaces, the myriad displays of dyed fabrics hanging out of windows and strung across avenues, the pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses. This is the India that everyone wants to know, this India of comic book fantasy filled with bouncing, turbaned footmen and mysterious white tigers.