Thursday, August 12, 2010

Martin Ramirez In Life, Family, & Art

Just before I decided to write about Prestel's (July 2010, $49.95) recent publication of artist, Martin Ramirez, I tried my best to recall the first time I discovered his work and unfortunately, I was unable to do so. But in the scheme of things that faded memory matters little as I have wholeheartedly fallen in love with both the artist's life and work.

Martin Ramirez was born in 1895 in Jalisco, Mexico. At some point during Ramirez's 30th year, he decides to make his way to the United States. A half-dozen years later, the 36 year old man in search of a better life finds himself institutionalized for mental illness. Diagnosed (a short time later) as a catatonic schizophrenic Ramirez spends the remainder of his years in a mental institution. It was under these circumstances in which Ramirez produced nearly 450 pieces, each worthy of a place in the annals of modern art.

Of the handful of titles published (English and Spanish) about Ramirez, never, until now has a volume provided such clarity regarding the artist's life, family, and craft. Edited by Lynne Cooke, Martin Ramirez: Reframing Confinement, surpasses all other volumes as it includes a quartet of well written essays and a variety of critical texts, some of which appear (here) for the first time.

The essay, The Worlds of Martin Ramirez, by Victor M. Espinosa bravely stands alone as it fills former gaps of the artist's roots, migration, seclusion, and vocation. Digging deeper than any writer before him, Espinosa provides fragments of a lost conversation between Ramirez and a nephew, excerpts of a 2003 telephone interview with Ramirez's interpreter while confined at the DeWitt State Hospital, as well as an intricate look into the artist's dust ridden clinical records. The historic accuracy rendered by Espinosa is sure to be cited in the many works about Ramirez that will follow.

"After several days of illness, on 17th February, 1963, he died of cardiac arrest at the age of 67," writes Espinosa. "The Mexican consulate in Sacramento notified his family of his death but the family lacked the means to pay for the return of his body to Mexico, or to pay for a funeral in the United States: he was buried in an unused corner of the Cementerio del Calvario, in Sacramento."

Although the written word in, Martin Ramirez: Reframing Confinement, clearly frames the life of the artist, it will be the scattered black and white photographs and catalogue of works that survive as images in your mind long after the book has been nicely shelved among your other favorite titles.

Final Flurries
Welcome back educators and may God Bless You w/ a great year. Wish me luck as the new administrator of academic achievement at Greeley Central High School. What's up w/ the Rockies not giving Jimenez any run support; he should easily have a couple more wins on his ledger. Looking forward to reading Daniel Alarcon's newest story, Second Lives, in this week's New Yorker; he's one hell of a writer. I hear Lalo's archives are heading home to El Chuco; very envious of the archivist/s who will uncover the many lives of Abelardo. For those of you interested in documentaries about writers, get your hands on the Stone Reader from your local library. Hasta luego...


msedano said...

less luck, more achievement, most of all students willing to put in the time and effort to be effective, those are my wishes for your first year at greeley.


Melinda Palacio said...

Buena suerte, Jesse. Go in with an open heart and open mind. I'm sure you will do great things for the school and students.

Anonymous said...

Lalo Delgado's stuff getting archived--I assume--is great news. Where exactly? Who's got the details?

I've only seen bits of his papers, but what I did was incredible. He corresponded with the founders/activists of the early days--some great insights into lo que pasó.

Y felicidades
on your new Greeley job, Es. Your kids will benefit greatly.

John said...

Wish you all the best Jesse in your position. Stay a strong role model, and continue the hard work.