Martín Ramirez’s Voyage to the “Inside”

Ricco/Maresca Gallery
Nov 17, 2017 2:44AM

Ricco/Maresca Gallery’s current exhibition “Martín Ramírez… A Journey,” comes at a time when the Self-Taught Mexican master’s widespread recognition—a drawn-out journey in itself—seems to be reaching its apex. Since being granted the artist’s estate in 2008, the gallery has debuted many Ramírez masterpieces and witnessed the entire oeuvre cross boundaries that are still unsurmountable for most “Outsider” artists: from the seminal exhibition “Reframing Confinement” (2010) at The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía—Spain's national museum of 20th Century art—to the historic issuing of five Forever stamps, dedicated to Ramírez’s art and life by the United States Postal Service in 2015.

Martín Ramírez
Untitled (Man Riding Donkey, Triptych), 1960-1963
Ricco/Maresca Gallery

The last linchpin of this momentum is a comprehensive exhibition that inaugurated the new Institute of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (ICA LA) this past September: “Martín Ramírez: His Life in Pictures, Another Interpretation,” curated by Elsa Longhauser and the first monographic exhibition of the artist’s work in California—the state where the entire oeuvre was produced. This presentation was partially funded by the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time “LA/LA” initiative (a far-reaching exploration of Latin American and Latinx art in dialogue with Los Angeles) and comprises 50 plus drawings and collages made by Ramírez within a mental institution (from 1931 until his death in 1963), including a sprawling 17-foot scroll, freshly conserved and never-before shown, from the collection of Chicago artists Jim Nutt and Gladys Nilsson.

Martín Ramírez
Untitled (Black and White Tunnels with Train Tracks), 1950
Ricco/Maresca Gallery
Martín Ramírez
Untitled (Abstracted Landscape with Horse and Rider), 1960
Ricco/Maresca Gallery

Born near Jalisco in 1895, Ramírez crossed the Mexico-USA border illegally in 1925 to look for work opportunities in California. He was employed as mine and railroad worker and one day was picked up by the police presumably in a disoriented state. He was eventually declared schizophrenic (with previous diagnoses of manic-depression and catatonic dementia praecox) and committed first at Stockton State Hospital and then at the DeWitt State Hospital in Auburn, where he spent the rest of his life. It was there where he discovered art and created the compelling body of work for which he has come to be known.

Martín Ramírez
Untitled (Frontal Caballero with Red Spurs), 1952-1955
Ricco/Maresca Gallery
Martín Ramírez
Untitled (Caballero with Red and Blue Patterns No. 1), 1950-1955
Ricco/Maresca Gallery
Martín Ramírez
Untitled (Black and White Frontal Caballero No.1), 1950-1955
Ricco/Maresca Gallery

Ramírez produced a monumental body of work consisting of intricate drawings and collages whose linear rhythm and spatial tension have been compared to the techniques of Wassily Kandinsky, Frank Stella, and Sol LeWitt … Recent examinations of Ramírez’s psychiatric evaluations have called his diagnosis into question, allowing an opportunity to recontextualize his life and work and navigate the unsettled territory between outsider and mainstream art,” reads the release from ICA LA. This approach echoes Ricco/Maresca Gallery’s longstanding focus on the concept of crossover; presenting the work of quote-unquote marginal artists in dialogue with modern and contemporary art. Ramírez is in many ways a classic example of the “Outsider” artist idea; he made art in an intuitive, non-academic manner, representing physical and mental confinement in mixed-media works notable for their labyrinthic, seemingly unending visual iterations that frame insulated memories and visions. The artist’s real pilgrimage across boundaries and his figurative, admirable flight into the mainstream art world would, however, suggest a shift in parameters.

Martín Ramírez
Untitled (Train and Tunnels), ca. 1954
Ricco/Maresca Gallery
Martín Ramírez
Untitled (Arches), 1960
Ricco/Maresca Gallery
Ricco/Maresca Gallery