Work by Martín Ramírez, key ‘outsider artist,’ to be unveiled at Library of Congress
By Philip Kennicott, Published: December 7, 2013
About halfway down the geological layers of paper inside a box of archival materials, Tracey Barton came across a rolled-up, slightly crushed tube of paper which intrigued her. It was September 2009, and the 31-year veteran of the Library of Congress was sorting through old pamphlets and letters that once belonged to the legendary modernist design couple Charles and Ray Eames.
She unrolled the brittle and crumbling drawing just enough to discover an image of a woman rendered in what looked like a Mexican folk style. When she flipped it over, the mystery deepened: It was drawn on a crazy-quilt assemblage of old letters, envelopes and other scraps of paper, including a solicitation for nude photographs.
“When I saw all the junk mail, I thought I was looking at a piece of outsider art,” she says. And she was.
Although the drawing was unsigned, the envelopes had a recurring postmark — Auburn, Calif. — and by entering that and the words “outsider art” into Google, Barton came up with the answer: Martín Ramírez, one of the most famous self-taught artists of the 20th century.
On Thursday, the Library of Congress will unveil the drawing, a lost Madonna by a Mexican artist who spent more than 30 years of his life institutionalized, much of it at Dewitt State Hospital in Auburn.
The drawing has been carefully preserved, patched and minimally retouched where insects ate away at the paper. It is a charming and energetic picture showing an angelic figure, with an androgynous face and a radiant crown, standing on a luminous blue globe. Surrounding her, and rendered in a different perspective, are two canyons filled with what seem to be automobiles, driving from a landscape of green trees toward the bottom of the vertical landscape, perhaps south, to Mexico.