San Diego Artist Is Drawing Every Single Seinfeld Girlfriend
Local illustrator Carolyn Ramos, former art director of San Diego CityBeat, is using the pandemic to create a poster for each girlfriend in the iconic pop culture show.
Thursday, August 27, 2020
Credit: Carolyn Ramos
Artist Carolyn Ramos estimates Jerry Seinfeld dated 66 different women throughout the nine-season run of "Seinfeld." With some duplicates, and a few extra iterations of Elaine, Ramos is rounding it up to almost 70. And during the pandemic, she started drawing each of them and posting the illustrations to her Instagram account.
"When the protests about racial injustice were happening, I was so angry and frustrated, but at the same time, I couldn’t channel those feelings into art, which I found out about myself," said Ramos. She found she couldn't make protest art, despite feeling a certain pressure to do so.
Enter what she affectionately refers to as "the Girlfriends."
Ramos is a freelance illustrator and designer and the former art director for San Diego CityBeat. Ramos first considered drawing each Seinfeld girlfriend several years ago. The idea kept coming up.
In 2015, Hulu bought the rights to all nine seasons, and with it came a surge in attention to Seinfeld, from both rewatchers and new, younger audiences. Ramos also noted that recently, "Seinfeld" meme and fan accounts had been popping up on Instagram. "Instagram drives pop culture," she noted.
Ramos's artwork is often strikingly minimal, but has a complicated sadness and stillness to it. Much of her human figure work prior to the Girlfriends project was avatar-style self-portraiture, and a hallmark of Ramos' work is that the figures have their eyes closed. But for the Girlfriends, she's branched out, drawing full bodies and open eyes.
Ramos started watching "Seinfeld" in high school, and has been rewatching each episode as the project progresses.
"Even in high school, I didn’t understand all the jokes in 'Seinfeld.' I didn’t know anything about New York, or the world. But I connected with their attitude. I was drawn to the way that they lived, and the dynamic between the four," Ramos said.
Both equally celebrated and criticized for being a show about nothing, "Seinfeld" has a solid and specific place in pop culture history.
Shawna Kidman, media scholar and assistant professor of communication at UC San Diego, focuses her research and teachings on broadcast and cable history and contemporary themes of pop culture. She said there's a sense of comfort in television that a lot of media scholarship focuses on, particularly in the '90s, when television had a weekly or daily role in human culture. Seinfeld, in particular, brought a disruptive sense of irony to the mix.
"Especially if you look at '80s television, there was a real sense of family-friendly programming and a lot of moral lessons, and kind of really centrist perspectives and depictions, and 'Seinfeld' was really willing to go in a space of irony that I think really represented the '90s and was very much of its time and place," Kidman said. "So they had a no hugging and no learning motto on the show, that was all about 'we’re not gonna teach you lessons, we're not gonna reinforce social norms, we’re not gonna be cozy and friendly and warm in the way you’re used to.'"
Ramos pointed out that older sitcoms, and most television programs in the '90s, featured entirely standalone episodes. Stories that spanned multiple episodes were rare and plotlines — and jokes — wrapped up in 30 minutes for Seinfeld.
So for Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer, the way they respond to, connect to and interact with the one-off characters, specifically the many significant others over the course of the show's run, provides a glimpse of that longer-form character development, and that's what drew Ramos in to the girlfriends. In that way, Ramos said, these girlfriends aren't "throwaways."
"The TV industry today wants us to build these long-term attachments to characters and the story lines," Kidman said, and added that Ramos' project really merges these contemporary attachments with the '90s television format. "TV in the 1990s was completely episodic. You didn’t have to follow any kind of long-term storyline. Now because of the economics of television, and also because of television habits, of streaming, time-shifted viewing, that now all television, even sitcoms are serial."
Many of the girlfriends Ramos has immortalized were one-off actresses but some notable cameos include Janeane Garofalo, Debra Messing, Catherine Keener and Courtney Cox. Ramos includes stills from the show or quotes in each Instagram post — often what she remembered about a girlfriend were other things that happened in the episode. (For example, for Girlfriend #50 — S8, E2, "The Soul Mate," Pam — Ramos points out "Meanwhile, George has built a 1/14 scale mockup of the Susan Foundation conference room.")
Kidman suggested that another lure of the sitcom is the structure. "At the end of every episode, there's a complete return to normalcy," Kidman said. "So every week, we're kind of reintroduced to the characters, there's some kind of predicament, and the predicament gets resolved, and at the end of the episode, we're exactly back where we started. Which, as a narrative form, it's comforting, it's restorative, it holds out this kind of promise that I think feels intensely needed at this moment."
For Ramos, the project is a way to rediscover and structure her art practice during the uncertainty and pressure of the social moment. "It's completely escapist for me," Ramos said.
She hopes to eventually sell the posters, but for now has just over a dozen more girlfriends to draw.
Ramos' favorite girlfriend? "Goth Elaine was so fun."
To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.