American (b. Mexico)
Martin Ramirez was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and crossed the border into the United States sometime between 1900 and 1910. He initially worked in the railroad industry, but eventually became indigent and in 1930 was institutionalized by Los Angeles authorities. He was subsequently transferred to De Witt State Mental hospital in Auburn, and began to draw there in 1950. In 1954, he showed some of his drawings to psychologist Dr. Tarmo Pasto who took an interest in his work. After Ramirez’s death in 1960, Dr. Pasto showed the works to artist Jim Nutt who was then an instructor at Sacramento State College. Nutt and art dealer Phyllis Kind bought Ramirez’s body of work from Pasto, and became key advocates for his art, exhibiting it in a variety of venues.
Initially Ramirez created his art with a pencil that was allotted by hospital staff. He used scraps of paper, at times glued together with a variety of substances, including mashed potatoes, bread, water, and saliva. After Pasto became aware of his art, he supplied him with better materials, including colored pencils. The imagery of Ramirez’s work incorporates such seemingly biographical motifs as railroads and trains, a variety of figures such as Madonnas and cowboys, as well as animals and architectural constructions.
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