Martín Ramírez

Brooke Davis Anderson, 2007
Publisher: Marquand Books and the American Folk Art Museum

ISBN: 0977802817

Pages: 192

Ramirez (1895-1963), the great self-taught draftsman of the twentieth century, left his native Los Altos de Jalisco, Mexico, in 1925 to find work in the United States and support his wife and children back home. Political struggles in Mexico and the economic consequences of the Great Depression left him stranded, jobless and homeless, on the streets of California in 1931. Unable to communicate in English and apparently confused, he was soon detained by the police and committed to a psychiatric hospital, where he would eventually be diagnosed as a catatonic schizophrenic. Ramirez hardly talked to anybody during those thirty-two years. Instead, he began to assemble found bits of paper--candy wrappers, greeting cards, flattened paper cups, hospital supply forms, and book pages, for example--using a self-made glue to create large surfaces for drawing. Sketched in graphite, colored pencil, or crayon, and often collaged with magazine illustrations, the artist's drawings range in size from several inches up to twelve feet. He was a master of pictorial space, using dramatic shifts in depth and scale to create a field in which multiple perspectives coexist. Ramirez's art depicts a variety of subjects, including caballeros, Madonnas, animals, trains, and tunnels. Memory and experience seep through each composition. While one strong component of Ramirez's work is the imagery of Mexico, another is an aesthetic found in the culture of mental illness. Martin Ramirez is the first book to give equal consideration to the biographical, historical, and cultural influences in Ramirez's oeuvre, its artistic quality and merit, and its standing in the context of the work of twentieth-century self-taught artists. An interdisciplinary exploration of Ramirez's life and complex, multilayered artwork, it presents a holistic examination of his drawings and collages beyond the boundaries of his diagnosed schizophrenia.

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