Martín Ramírez (January 30, 1895 – February 17, 1963) was a self-taught artist who spent most of his adult life institutionalized in California mental hospitals, diagnosed as a catatonic schizophrenic. He is considered to be one of the 20th centuries self-taught masters.
Ramirez migrated to the United States from Tepatitlan, Mexico to find employment, leaving behind his pregnant wife and three children. He worked on the railroads in California between 1925 and 1930. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia, leaning towards catatonia. Ramírez spent over 30 years being institutionalized.
At DeWitt, a visiting professor of psychology and art, Tarmo Pasto, came across Ramírez’s work and began to save the large-scale works Ramírez made using available materials, including brown paper bags, scraps of examining-table paper, and book pages glued together with a paste made of potatoes and saliva. His works display an idiosyncratic iconography that reflect both Mexican folk traditions and twentieth-century modernization: images of Madonnas, horseback riders, and trains entering and exiting tunnels proliferate in the work, along with undulating fields of concentric lines that describe landscapes, tunnels, theatrical prosceniums, and decorative patterns.
In January 2007, the American Folk Art Museum in New York City opened “Martín Ramírez,” the largest retrospective of the artist’s work in the United States in more than 20 years. The exhibition featured about 100 of the 300 drawings and collages that had then been known to exist. It was accompanied by a catalog that includes a biographical essay, written by sociologists Víctor M. Espinosa and Kristin E. Espinosa, which discusses many previously unpublished details of Ramírez’s life. 8).