Martín Ramírez

MARTÍN RAMÍREZ was a self-taught artist who spent most of his adult life institutionalized in California mental hospitals, diagnosed as a catatonic schizophrenic. He is considered by some to be one of the 20th century’s best self-taught masters. (via Wikipedia)

BORN: January 30, 1895, Rincón de Velázquez, Tepatitlán, Jalisco, Mexico

DIED: February 17, 1963, (aged 68), Auburn, California, US

MARTÍN RAMÍREZ Untitled (Train) (c. 1953) via American Folk Art Museum
MARTÍN RAMÍREZ Untitled (Horizontal collage of white church with abstract sides) (c. 1960-1963)
via American Folk Art Museum
MARTÍN RAMÍREZ Untitled (Horse and Rider) (c. 1948-1963) via American Folk Art Museum

Martín Ramírez was born in 1895 in Jalisco, Mexico. Widely considered one of the 20thcentury’s self-taught masters of drawing, Ramírez produced approximately 450 known drawings and collages during the 15 years he spent as a psychiatric inmate at DeWitt State Hospital in Auburn, California. Through myriad sophisticated and recurrent pictorial strategies, his singular works constitute a stirring testimonial on themes of poverty, alienation, immigration, confinement, and, above all, memory.

Ramírez immigrated to the United States in 1925, at age 30, leaving behind his wife Ana and their four children. Barely able to speak English, he worked on the railroads and in the mines in California for several years, but he became a drifter during the Great Depression and was eventually arrested, for reasons still unclear, in 1931. While in police custody, he was diagnosed as manic-depressive and remanded to a mental facility. Ramírez, who was later also diagnosed with catatonic schizophrenia, was subsequently moved through a series of psychiatric institutions until 1948, when he was sent to DeWitt, where he remained until his death in 1963.

While at DeWitt, Ramírez turned to drawing as a primary means of expression. He used whatever materials were at hand, including discarded scraps of paper that he often collaged together using a crude impasto fashioned out of mashed potatoes and his own spit. These works contain a litany of symbolically laden motifs, including horses and riders, the Virgin Mary, deer, tunnels, trains, his wife Ana, and the landscape of his native country. Ramírez’s remarkably dynamic manipulation of two-dimensional space is perhaps most evident in his harnessing of the simple line both to divide space and to convey emotion. Thanks to the encouragement of Tarmo Pasto, an artist and psychology professor at Sacramento State College, who immediately recognized the innate expressivity of Ramírez’s drawings, Ramírez was soon given materials and allotted a dedicated workspace in the overcrowded men’s ward. Pasto also arranged for the artist’s work to be exhibited at venues such as the de Young Museum, San Francisco (1961), and even mailed a tube of his drawings to the Guggenheim Museum’s director James Johnson Sweeney in New York in 1955. Despite Pasto’s efforts, Ramírez’s work remained largely unrecognized until long after his death.

via Guggenheim

See more work by Martín Ramírez.