Working with a limited range of materials and supplies, Martín Ramírez (1895-1963) created an astonishing oeuvre during his thirty plus years as an inmate of Stockton and DeWitt State Hospitals in California. Ramírez made his art in a room that he shared with dozens of other men who were also confined on account of their mental and physical disabilities, or because they were homeless, impoverished, and unemployed. Ramírez’s workspace was in a corner of the ward. He placed his drawings underneath his mattress for safekeeping. His art supplies were stored in a bedside table. In this communal space, he embarked upon his self-taught artistic endeavor.
This act of creating within a culture of confinement marries him to a rich tradition of individuals who have responded to the same impulse. Making art in prisons and asylums, and developing expressive formal and technical strategies specific to their constricted atmospheres, has proven to be a not uncommon reaction by inmates and patients from the late nineteenth century onwards. Transcending the category of art therapy, the work of the most significant – the most gifted and/or visionary – has been recognized under various rubrics: art brut, Outsider, or “self-taught” art. Martín Ramírez and his astounding collection of works are unquestionably in the pantheon of Outsider art.