First published:Summer 2006
Now, as the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) prepares to present one of the most comprehensive exhibitions ever assembled of Ramírez’s work, Raw Vision has been given an exclusive preview of one of the rarest, most complex creations in the artist’s intriguing oeuvre. The mixed-media drawing is believed to date from the early 1950s and has been loaned to the museum by the New York-based collector Audrey B. Heckler. Mural-size and richly textured, the untitled work will be a highlight of the much-anticipated New York show, which will open next year.
Born in Jalisco, a state in central-western Mexico, Ramírez was a diminutive figure who had worked as a laundryman before heading to the U.S. in search of better economic opportunities. There, he became a railroad labourer, but the work was hard, and the culture shock of life in a new country was daunting. Ramírez, who had stopped speaking around 1915, ‘became disoriented, delusional, and had hallucinations, exhibiting all the characteristics of a schizophrenic.’ Strung-out and unable to look after himself, he was picked up by authorities in Los Angeles and in 1930 was sent to a psychiatric hospital in northern California. So noted Dr. Tarmo Pasto, a Finnish-born psychologist who first encountered Ramírez and learned of his pencil-and-collage drawings when he visited the hospital in 1954.
Beginning in 1948 and continuing until his death, Ramírez created some 300 drawings (and possibly others, too, which may have been lost or destroyed). In 1968, the Chicago-based painter Jim Nutt discovered that Pasto, who was living in northern California, owned the Ramírez works. Nutt and Phyllis Kind, the art dealer who represented him, bought Pasto’s collection. Kind, a pioneering researcher and dealer in the Outsider Art field, later brought the works to market.
‘It’s hard to say exactly when the piece Audrey now owns was made,’ Kind explains, ‘but it was included in a Ramírez exhibition at Mills College in Oakland, near San Francisco, in 1954. By that time, it had been cut down the middle, apparently to make mounting and handling it easier, and mounted on linen stretched over a frame.’ (Kind and Heckler join me at AFAM’s warehouse in Brooklyn to inspect the imposing Ramírez drawing. Both shudder at the thought that it had been cut, while agreeing that mounting the sprawling picture, which is made up of many pasted-together pieces of white and brown paper, thin box cardboard and photos clipped from magazines, was probably a good conservation idea.)
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #55