US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Abundant life: The art of Martin Ramirez

The artwork of Mexican artist Martin Ramirez reminds us that the spirit is always free.

By John Christman | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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On March 26, 2015, the U.S. Postal Service issued a collection of stamps honoring the art of Martín Ramírez. At the time of his death, in February 1963 at California’s DeWitt State Hospital, such an accolade would have seemed like a dream.

Ramírez spent the last 30 years of his life in state hospitals with what was diagnosed at the time as “dementia praecox (schizophrenia), catatonic form.” Yet in his silence and despondency he found another language to occupy his mind and heart: art. With pencil, crayon, found paper, matchsticks, and self-made glue, Martín Ramírez created a visual world as compelling and intriguing as any of his artistic contemporaries. His solitary horseback rider, his meandering trains, and his endless dark corridors form fascinating narratives personal and political, whimsical and foreboding.

As Martín Ramírez was Catholic, often drawing images of the Blessed Virgin Mary and rural Mexican churches, his visual world reflects an even greater complexity. Catholicism emphasizes the great dignity of the human person, and in John’s gospel Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Artistic expression can become a means by which true personhood is shared.

What form does abundant life take for someone in a state hospital, far from home and struggling with mental disease? For Ramírez and those who love his artwork, abundant life appears in the form of drawings that liberated and engaged him in the midst of life’s challenges. Strikingly, the results of this life spent engaging creativity can now be seen around the world in major museums that proudly display his drawings.

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Published: 
Tuesday, August 16, 2016