The current exhibition of work by the late Martín Ramírez, “A Journey,” leads viewers in exploring the world of outsider art through one of its most illustrious practitioners. Ramírez was thirty years old when, in 1925, he decided to cross the Rio Grande, leaving his pregnant wife and three children in Mexico behind for the US. He arrived illegally in his new country, where the dream of finding a better life shattered after he started laboring on the California railroads and in mines. In 1931, Ramírez was unemployed and in a state of confusion, and the police found him on the street. He was then committed to Stockton State Hospital, where he was diagnosed as a catatonic schizophrenic. He repeatedly told them that he was not insane and could not speak English, and he tried escaping the place numerous times. Eventually, however, he stopped talking and started drawing.
In this show, viewers encounter variations of a man on horseback, one of the artist’s most iconic and popular figures—perhaps a reference to the Cristero fighters of his former homeland. There are also obsessively rendered architectonic structures composed of repeating arches, rows of little bricks, and patterns that look like wood grain. When he did not have access to his usual materials, he used what he found in the hospital. Untitled (Brick Structure with Arches), ca. 1960–63, for example, was created on gift-wrapping paper with a mid-1950s design that melds with Ramírez’s picture.
Untitled (Train and Tunnels), 1954, likely the most complex work in the show, is a vertiginous network of concentric lines and darkened tunnels with a train running along a track of impossible construction. Ramírez is a solitary traveler through memory, and his drawings are fearless.