Born in Jalisco, Mexico, Martin Ramirez worked as a sharecropper and a rancher until 1925, when he left his wife and four children and migrated to the USA to find work. After 6 years as a migrant worker, police took him into custody. Unable to speak English, Ramirez was diagnosed as a catatonic schizophrenic and confined to Stockton State Hospital. In 1948, he was transferred to DeWitt State Hospital near Sacramento, where he remained until his death in 1963.
Although there is evidence that he may have drawn as a younger man, Ramirez’ approximately 400 surviving works all date to the last fifteen years of his life when his work was championed by a visiting professor of psychology and art, Dr. Tarmo Pasto, and collected by Dr. Max Dunievitz. After Ramirez’ death, gallerist Phyllis Kind and artists Jim Nutt and Gladys Nilsson purchased Ramirez’ work and arranged for an exhibit of his work in 2008, when they came to the attention of the public for the first time.
Ramirez’ compositions contain rhythmic repetitions, and repeated themes, hemmed in by channels and tunnels. A master of line and control, Ramirez used graphite, melted crayons and found pigments on paper, glued together with saliva and oatmeal. A later discovery of his work appeared in 2009 to great acclaim. He is regarded as a master of Self-Taught Art.
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