Born in Jalisco, Mexico
Anticipating a better life than the one he had as a laundry worker in Mexico, Martin Ramirez settled in California sometime between 1900 and 1910. Unfortunately the diminutive man encountered only despair. When the railroad work he undertook proved too strenuous, his life deteriorated, and he became an indigent in Los Angeles. Having lost the power of speech, Ramirez was picked up by authorities in 1930, placed in a local mental institution, and transferred seven months later to DeWitt State Mental Hospital in Auburn, where he spent the remaining thirty years of his life.
After twenty years of hospitalization, Ramirez commenced making remarkable drawings and collages on sheets of paper formed of scavenged scraps glued together with mashed potatoes. Having hidden his drawings from the hospital staff, whose policy it was to confiscate and burn such works in order to keep the wards clean, Ramirez in 1954, presented a bundle of them to Dr. Tarmo Pasto, a psychology professor at Sacramento State College, who was conducting research at the hospital. Recognizing the mastery of artistic craft, Pasto asked the staff's permission to keep the drawings. Pasto regularly visited Ramirez thereafter, bringing art supplies and saving the drawings, some of which he used in his classes. In 1968, while teaching at the college, Chicago artist Jim Nutt discovered Ramirez's work in the storage bins of the audiovisual department and with the assistance of Pasto organized the first exhibition of Ramirez's work.
Drawn in graphite, colored pencil, or crayon-some collaged with meticulously torn magazine illustrations-Ramirez's works depict a variety of subjects including cowboys, bandits, madonnas, animals, trains, and tunnels. The figures, often represented on stages, are set in deep, illusionistic space. Aware of the impact of perspective in his drawings, Ranirez often instructed viewers to stand in a particular spot when looking at them.
Ramirez died at seventy-five, and despite the restrictive and adverse circumstances of his life, he left a collection of three hundred powerful drawings, ranging in height from two inches to nine feet.
Source: Barbara Freeman, Biographies of Outsider Artists in "Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art," Copyright 1992 by Museum Associates, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Princeton University Press, Reprinted by permission of the copyright holder.