Arthur Schopenhauer once famously observed that “genius lives only one story above madness”. Nowhere is that more congruous than in the life and work of the late Italian artist Carol Rama. Rama was born in the last throes of World War I into an Italian family straight-jacketed by religion and repressed sexuality and spent her young adulthood witnessing the steamrolling ascent of fascism. When Rama was fifteen, her mother Marta was committed to a mental institution which, with its disturbing scenes of forced confinement and intense physical and physiological pain, made a deep impression on the young artist. Her early pastels and watercolors are raw depictions of disembodied limbs, figures trapped in wheelchairs, and frontal nudes defiantly sticking their blood-red tongues out. A series of works titled “Appassionata” links the hellish prospect of the Passion of Christ with the psychological torment of inhibited sexuality. In the magnificent “Appassionata (Marta e i marchettoni)” (1939), named after her mother, three nude figures are trapped in a tightly cropped composition. Two males, in barely visible outlines with stark-red lips and bloodied genitalia, masturbate or copulate in front of a woman wearing a flowery crown of thorns. That these types of works were a direct affront to the stifling patriarchal environment of Mussolini’s Italy was clear and intentional and led, not surprisingly, to the police shutdown of her first gallery show. In 1942 Rama’s father, who owned a bicycle factory, committed suicide. Subsequent works abandoned figuration and often incorporated deflated rubber tires, tar, and doll eyes on dark canvas. Carol Rama died on September 25, 2015 at age 97 in the same town where she was born. Throughout her self-taught art practice madness, sexuality, violence and repression was matter-of-factly tied to the inevitability of family blood which also was the cauldron that gave birth to Rama’s genius. At Levy Gorvy through March 23.