Recently, I was introduced to the art of Martin Ramirez. His strange and twisted life story can be summarized as follows:
A young Mexican man comes to the United States in 1925 to find work. Years later, the Great Depression hits, he winds up on the street, and he gets picked up the cops. He is thrown into a nuthouse in California, where he lives for the rest of his life. Over the course of his 32 years in a mental institution, he creates some of the most stunning artwork of the era. With no formal training, and often, without any art supplies beyond stray objects that he found in the building, he creates mesmerizing images that address immigration, poverty, and insanity. He has public exhibitions of his work, and critics hail him as brilliant. Yet his schizophrenia is so severe that he rarely speaks to anyone, and he never comprehends that his pictures have provoked such adoration in the outside world. He dies, still insane as fuck, in 1963 at the age of 68.
If he had been a crazy Brit or a mad German, would his treatment in America have been the same? Might his genius be better recognized and nurtured today, rather than shut off in a padded cell? And what of our social services that took care of an immigrant instead of chucking him back across the border? How would that work in the current political climate?
These are all valid questions, but all I can offer in this post is a gateway to his art. Looking at his work makes you feel like you’re taking a warped train ride (one of his favorite reoccurring motifs) through a tortured imagination, destination unknown or even irrelevant. If you get a chance, check out a Ramirez exhibition, and let the Fanatic know what you think of it.