Martín Ramírez: Narratives of Displacement and Memory

Richard Kalina, Art in America, October 1, 2007

Click to read the full article


“Martín Ramírez’s marvelously expressive and formally inventive drawings of horseback riders, animals, landscapes, trains and tunnels, as well as the Madonna and other religious subjects, have been known to the art public since the 1970s. That was when Chicago artists Jim Nutt and Gladys Nilsson, along with dealer Phyllis Kind, bought nearly 300 works (virtually all of Ramírez’s existing oeuvre) from Tarmo Pasto, a Finnish-American artist and psychology professor who had discovered Ramírez in a California mental hospital in the early 1950s. Ramírez’s drawings, with their complex yet orderly topographies measured out in cascades of meticulously rendered parallel lines, their vertiginous perspectives, their beautiful facture and lush but low-keyed materiality, are immediately engaging. Although scarcely a household, Ramírez had his ardent supporters over the years. The American Folk Art Museum and the curator of its Contemporary Center, Brooke Davis Anderson, have done a great service by presenting what is on all counts the most thorough exhibition to date of this extraordinary yet often misunderstood artist.


Ramírez’s work has fallen under the general descriptive category of Outsider art, and the consensus seems to be that he, Henry Darger (1892-1973) and Adolf WÖlfli (1864-1930) are the three greatest artists of this ilk. (There is a fine line between Outsider art and the many varieties of folk art and the art of the untutored. Ramírez, Darger and WÖlfli are telling examples of artist who would seem to be classic Outsiders, if one judged them by their isolated circumstances and mental states.) Outsider art is a term with which I, like increasing numbers of other observers, have considerable difficulty, particularly when applied to artists like Ramírez.”