Martín Ramírez came to the United States from Mexico as a young man. His physical frailty, as well as the shock caused by a new culture and language, led to his eventual mental breakdown. In 1930 he was placed in an institution, where he remained until his death in 1960.
Around 1948, Ramírez began to draw on an eclectic array of paper surfaces—brown wrapping paper, laundry lists, paper cups, old letters—which were glued together to form a unified drawing area. He made use of a variety of tools and techniques, including crayons, colored pencils, watercolors, chalk, ink, and collage.
Ramírez's motifs reflect his life in two distinct cultures. His highly patterned, intricate drawings present fantastic renditions of subjects such as Mexican soldiers, Madonnas, prairie dogs, cars, and trains. In terms of technique, what is most extraordinary in Ramírez's art is his use of line to create the many different kinds of space—niches, frames, stages—in which his protagonists are placed. Although flatness characterizes the overall effect of his technique, the numerous parallel lines in Ramírez's work bring about a sense of visual depth.
In Soldado with American Flag, [SAAM, 1986.65.194] the action takes place, as in many related Ramírez drawings, on what can be described as a stage. Directly below the soldier on horseback, who holds center stage, is another drawing in which two animals are portrayed inside a similarly constructed stage. Although Ramírez's central image has a wonderful and playful quality, the proximity of the two seemingly unrelated scenes lends the work an air of potent mystery.
Hispanic-American Art (brochure, Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art)