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Shadow minds

"Shadow minds" Continued...

Issue: "New breed of homeless," Feb. 28, 2009

It doesn't matter that many of Ramirez's works are on pages glued together with a potatoes-and-saliva paste: His linear artistry is magnificent, ranking him in my humble opinion (and the opinion of many fine critics) alongside Paul Klee and Saul Steinberg. There's a strange mind at work in Ramirez's art, a mind that became lost in the crevices Fujimura writes of, but one from a Christian tradition that still delighted in order, not mutilation. Art historians have pieced together his tragic story.

Ramirez apparently was a talented horseman who owned a small ranch in the Mexican state of Jalisco until debt drove him in 1925 to head north of the border to temporary railroad and mining work that would allow him to send money back to his wife and children. When he came to the United States at age 30 he was apparently a believing Catholic who had his wits about him.

While he was away one of Mexico's civil wars broke out, with Catholics fighting back again the anti-church measures of Mexican President Plutarco Calles. Ramirez received a letter from home that led him to think his wife had joined the anti-church federales; he was so angry that he vowed never to go home. Something snapped, at least to the satisfaction of state hospital psychologists who probably enjoyed speculating about the meaning of his trains and tunnels.

In the process, all except one psychologist missed seeing that they had on their hands a genius. The one, Sacramento State College professor Tarmo Pasto, brought Ramirez more art supplies and saved his drawings. Doctors diagnosed Ramirez, rarely speaking, as not only schizophrenic but largely catatonic, yet he voiced his passions and obsessions through his art-and Pasto recognized that. Violent patients in the psychiatric ward led Ramirez to crouch in the shadows under tables for hours, until he could return to drawing a comforting world.

Today the works of Ramirez, like those of Darger, sell for big bucks. A painter who visited Ramirez in the 1950s, Wayne Thiebaud, said "He had no idea he was making art. He just wanted to make these powerful images, which for him was a little kind of world." A world in little more than a grain of sand.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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