Sunday, January 08, 2012

An 'Outsider' Artist: Martin Ramirez

Tarmo Pasto, an art and psychology professor at Sacramento State University took an interest in the work of Martin Ramirez. Pasto, at left, and Ramirez hold up one of the patient's large drawings at DeWitt State Hospital in Auburn, circa 1950s.  

First - a quick Wiki bio:
Martín Ramírez (March 31, 1895 – February 17, 1963) was a self-taught artist who spent most of his adult life institutionalized in California mental hospitals, diagnosed as a catatonic schizophrenic.

He was born in 1895.

Having migrated to the United States from Tepatitlan, Mexico in 1925, Ramírez was institutionalized in 1931, first at Stockton State Hospital in Stockton, California, then, beginning in 1948, at DeWitt State Hospital in Auburn, near Sacramento, where he made the drawings and collages for which he is now known. At DeWitt, a visiting professor of psychology and art, Tarmo Pasto, came across Ramírez's work and began to save the large-scale works Ramírez made using available materials, including brown paper bags, scraps of examining-table paper, and book pages glued together with a paste made of potatoes and saliva. His works display an idiosyncratic iconography that reflect both Mexican folk traditions and twentieth-century modernization: images of Madonnas, horseback riders, and trains entering and exiting tunnels proliferate in the work, along with undulating fields of concentric lines that describe landscapes, tunnels, theatrical prosceniums, and decorative patterns.

He died in 1963. - WikiSource
I fell in love with this man's work after I saw a CBS presentation on his art.  I know many so called 'normal' people, aka 'ordinary' people, as well as traditionalists do not like 'modern art', so many may not appreciate this man's work, or may dismiss it because Mr. Ramirez was a mental patient.  Likewise, referencing his art as 'folk art' strikes me as somewhat dismissive as well.  To each his own.  I love this man's work.  Below is one of my favorites - although I have so many.  His work reminds me very much of the santeros paintings of rural New Mexico, as well some of the glyphs and design motifs of the ancient Aztecs.
This collage is framed by multiple patterns of parallel lines, and a comforting structure resembling an altar. In the middle is a cathedral, an homage to Martin Ramirez' deep faith in Catholicism. Rising above all is a horse and rider, reflecting the artist's unfulfilled dream to be a successful rancher. Untitled (Landscape) Circa 1952.  

More links:


  1. I went and looked at more of his work and found it quite lovely. It reminds me of what some of the art journalers are doing.

  2. The artistic image must "fast" if it is to procure a feast. The artistic image is as much about what it does not show as what it does show. It is perhaps even *more* about what it does not show than about what it does show. Martin Ramirez's images show the integrity of an iconographer. His images are clearly "religious acts". They are almost kinds of pre-images; interpretive in the best sense of the word. Not "abstract" or conceptual, but open to interpretation precisely because they are such solidly clear windows onto real things.

    I did not know of this artist until you posted on him Terry, and those are some words that come to mind as I look at his work. My words fail utterly. Thanks.

  3. I'm glad you like him.

  4. I agree with Paul. I think those who disdain modern art [myself included] really mean they loathe abstract and conceptual art- neither would I use to describe Ramirez.

    I quite like his work. Thank you for introducing him to me. :-)


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