I visited the American Folk Art Museum for the first time this weekend, to see the major retrospective on the self-taught artist, Martin Ramirez (1895-1963).
Here's a first-hand description of him by Dr. Tarmo Fasto, a professor of psychology and art, who discovered Ramirez's work at the DeWitt State Hospital in Aubum, California.
He is a Mexican, about sixty-eight years old, who is classified as a chronic paranoid schizophrenic and considered incurable, having been institutionalized for over twenty years. His art activity dates back about six years. He is slight of build, greatly underweight, a former tuberculous patient who spends his time on his art. He does not speak to anyone but hums in a singsong way when pleased with his visitors. Conversation as an exchange of ideas is impossible.
His manner of work is unique. When good paper is not available, he glues together scraps of paper, old envelopes, paper bags, paper cups, wrappers- anything that may have a clear drawing area. He often makes many small background studies, seashell and nature forms, which he stores in his shirt, in a paper shopping bag, in tied rolls, or behind a radiator, suddenly to be taken out and glued to an evolving picture. He fashions his own glue out of mashed potatoes and water—sometimes bread and saliva. He squats on his haunches, moving about the floor between two cots, using, stubs of colored pencils and Crayolas, drawing a little here, a little there. His drawing is kept rolled up and usually only a portion of it is exposed at any one time. He has recently shown considerable pleasure with groups of student visitors, to whom he displays his work with obvious pride.
I find the drawings visually compelling.
The Mexican cowboy:
The train and the scribe:
Matt called my attention to the collage-like composition of the landscape. Even the buildings in the landscape comprise elements of different architectural styles. The city is deconstructed into tunnels, freeways, walls, doors, windows, spires, towers--disparate elements that combine only to dwarf the slight human figures.