First published: Fall 2017
The inaugural exhibition at the new Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, a venue that evolved out of the former Santa Monica Museum of Art, is a probing, illuminating survey of the work of Martín Ramírez, the Mexican-born, self-taught artist whose technically innovative, mixed-media drawings have earned him a central place in the canon of definitive art brut and outsider art masters.
“Martín Ramírez: His Life in Pictures, Another Interpretation” will remain on view at the ICA LA through December 31, 2017. It is part of “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA”, a region-wide exhibition series that will run through January 2018. Collectively, these shows examine the impact and influence of Latin American culture on that of southern California. The exhibitions programme is funded by the J. Paul Getty Trust.
Untitled (Horse and Red Rider), n.d., gouache, coloured pencil, and graphite on pieced paper, 34.5 × 24.5 in. / 87.6 × 62.2 cm, collection of Jim Nutt and Gladys Nilsson
Born in Jalisco, in west-central Mexico, Ramírez (1895–1963) was the son of poor sharecroppers who were devout Catholics. He received only a rudimentary education and, as a young man, lacked money with which to purchase his own land. In the mid 1920s, he left his wife and children and headed north to the United States in search of work. It is believed that, in California, he laboured as a railroad builder, and elsewhere as a miner. In Mexico, in 1926, the Cristero Rebellion broke out. In this civil war, armed Catholics fought the Mexican federal government’s secularising forces. Ramírez’s native region became a bastion of pro-Church fighters, but he did not return home.
No one knows how Ramírez survived the subsequent Great Depression in the United States, but in 1931, apparently suffering from mental illness, he was picked up as a vagrant by police in central California. Later, he was in and out of psychiatric hospitals and jails. In 1948, diagnosed with schizophrenia and tuberculosis, he was sent to a psychiatric hospital in northern California, where he resided until his death. There, he made drawings using matchsticks dipped in a paste of melted crayon wax, fruit juice, charcoal, shoe polish and his own saliva. He drew on and affixed collage elements to found papers, which he glued together with a mixture of saliva and masticated potatoes.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #95