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Martín Ramírez is best known as the schizophrenic outsider artist who drew his masterpieces from a mental hospital. The diagnosis certainly adds a bit of sensation to his legacy, but make no mistake; he’s one of 20th century’s self-taught masters. The dude even has that ultimate accolade a USPS stamp series! Ramírez’s work is rustic, yet ornate, a kind of psychedelic folk art made with scraps and common materials—usually basic pencils and crayons on found paper. If you look closely, you can sometimes see the lines of notebook paper or the distinct shade of a paper bag. Early on, he pasted them together with potatoes and spit. His themes of trains, saints and cowboys evoke a spiritual wild frontier ordained with his trademark filigree patterns, reminiscent of rings on a tree stump.

Ramírez’s life was tragic. At the age of 23, knowing absolutely no English, he crossed the US border to find work and provide for his pregnant wife and their three children. After six years, he was homeless, and he was soon arrested and institutionalized with acute schizophrenia, nearly catatonic. Although Ramírez’s brilliant work received some recognition during his lifetime, he remained hospitalized until his death in 1963, and the age of 68.

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