Martín Ramírez


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Mixed-media draftsman. Self-taught as an artist, he created unworldly fantasies suggesting the subconscious mind in action. Architectural forms, tunnels, and animals recur frequently in his private iconography. Born in the Los Altos region of Jalisco, Mexico, he moved to California when he was about thirty to work in mining and railroad construction. In the early 1930s he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Soon permanently institutionalized, he spent his final fifteen years in a state mental hospital at Auburn, northeast of Sacramento. There, a psychologist recognized the quality of his obsessive, patterned works and encouraged his talent. Incorporating remembered and observed elements in unexpected combinations, Ramírez often added color in crayon or watercolor, and occasionally included collage elements cut from magazine illustrations. Untitled (Church) (Smithsonian American Art Museum, c. 1950) features elaborate architectural elements, probably remembered from the colonial baroque buildings of his childhood. Possibly stimulated by the memory of a sculpture, a horse within an arch above the tunnel-like entrance dominates a rudimentary facade with twin towers. On either side, tall, domed structures suggest other parts of the church, while a cloister loggia extends to one side. An elaborate foreground pattern apparently stands for brick stairs leading up to the entrance, and a cyclonelike form spins to one side in the background. As is the case with most of Ramírez's works, although meaning remains obscure, the energy and intricacy of the artist's handiwork convey the mind's robust ability to travel to its own destinations.

Subjects: Art — United States History.

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