Alfredo Ramos Martinez

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Alfredo Ramos Martinez was born on November 12, 1871, in Monterrey, Mexico. His father, Jacobo Ramos, a middle-class storekeeper, and his mother, Luisa Martinez de Ramos were strongly supportive of young Alfredo's artistic endeavors and at the impressionable age of only nine years old, he sent a portrait he had painted of the governor of Nuevo Leon to a competition in San Antonio, Texas and was awarded first prize.

Ramos Martinez spent eight years at the prestigious Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, an experience that left him resentful as he believed the system devalued any sense of individuality in an artist. Fed up with the monotony of drawing from plaster casts, he often wandered away from the academy to paint scenes from ordinary life. His work caught the attention of American Phoebe Hearst, who arranged to financially support his studies abroad. In 1897, he arrived in Paris and continued his studies in the streets of the city embracing the style of the Post-Impressionists. It was here in Europe that Ramos Martinez began to paint on newsprint. As he explained later in an interview, while visiting Brittany in preparation for his Salon exhibition, he ran out of sketch paper. He asked his landlord if he had access to any good paper. When the landlord returned, he offered Ramos Martinez a stack of newspapers, which the artist reluctantly accepted.

Ramos Martinez returned to Mexico in 1910 and three years later he was appointed the Director of the National Academy. Although he protested at first, "no, not I - I am the enemy of all academies," he later accepted the offer when he realized he had strong support from the students. He opened the first of his Escuelas de Pintura al Aire Libre (Open Air Schools of Painting) with an enrollment of ten boys, including a rebellious youth named David Alfaro Siqueiros, soon to become one of the most important Mexican muralists. Taking its cue from the Impressionist concept of painting in the outdoors, this revolutionary program initiated changes in both the theoretical and practical approaches to painting in Mexico bringing arts education within the reach of people of all walks of life. Modernist painter Rufino Tamayo, who studied at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes from 1917 through 1921, credited Ramos Martinez for directing him "toward Impressionism."

Ramos Martinez married Maria de Sodi Romero in 1928 and a year later their daughter, Maria, was born with a crippling bone disease. Greatly grieved by her suffering, Ramos Martinez and his family left Mexico in 1930 seeking medical attention for her in the United States. They settled in Los Angeles where her condition was successfully treated. These circumstances would catapult Ramos Martinez's art in a new direction. The works produced in California at this time are abruptly modern, yet they focus on prevailing themes of the Mexican renaissance. He turns to the subjects he adored: the humble yet monumental Indian, the dramatic landscapes of Mexico and religious themes that reveal the fervent spirituality shared by his people. He explores the parameters of volume and space in his enormous oil on canvas portraits and his lyrical language of line and color are revealed in his elegant gouaches. The tender embrace of a mother and child, a grouping of vendedoras masterfully balancing baskets of abundant, colorful fruit on their heads, or a depiction of a processional of indigenous women dressed in warm tones of yellows and golds paying homage to the pre-Colombian deity, Quetzalcoatl, are beautifully rendered and even further dramatized by the texture of his chosen medium of newsprint.

Ramos Martinez was commissioned to paint numerous murals throughout the United States and Mexico including, the celebrity homes of Jo Swerling, Edith Head and Beulah Bondi, the Chapman Park Hotel, Scripps College in Claremont California and the Normal School for Teachers in Mexico City. His work was exhibited throughout California including the Los Angeles County Museum, the Assistance League Gallery in Hollywood, the Faulkner Gallery in Santa Barbara, and the San Francisco Museum of Art. In 1945, he had a one man show at the Dalzell Hatfield Galleries and the following year at Lillenfeld Gallery in New York City. After his death in 1946, his works were highlighted in several memorial retrospectives including Dalzell-Hatfield Galleries in 1951-1952, Los Angeles City College in 1953, at Scripps College in 1956 and in 1975 the Dalzell-Hatfield Galleries featured "Alfredo Ramos Martinez: A Treasure Trove Exhibition." In 1992, Louis Stern Galleries presented a prominent retrospective exhibition of his work and continues to represent the estate.

Although considered by many to be the founding father of Modern Mexican Art, Ramos Martinez's astounding contributions to the development of Mexican and Southern Californian art has been dramatically overlooked. A prolific painter and an innovative teacher, Ramos Martinez has been a victim of circumstance; an inexplicable lapse in memory. At a time when Mexican art gained great momentum with the Mexican Muralist movement with such recognizable names as Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco, Ramos Martinez's substantial artistic vision had all been but erased. However, a truly great artist remains just that. "If Mexican modernism is the product of the 1910 Revolution, which projected not only a utopian vision of the future, but also a return to Mexico's roots," as Hans Haufe states, "Ramos Martinez stands among the painters that initiated that movement." His legacy lives on and his work is now gaining the recognition it deservedly needs.

Exhibited: Paris Salon, 1906; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1930; Artists Fiesta, Los Angeles, 1931; San Diego Fine Arts Gallery, 1932; Santa Monica Public Library, 1933; California Palace of the Legion of Honor, 1933; Faulkner Art Gallery, Santa Barbara, 1934; California-Pacific International Exposition, San Diego, 1935; California Art Club, 1938; University of California Los Angeles, 1938; San Francisco Museum of Art, 1938; Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco, 1939; Los Angeles County Fair, 1941; Scripps College, Claremont, 1945; Los Angeles City College, 1953.

Works held: California Historical Society, San Francisco; California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco; Chapman Park Hotel, Los Angeles; Mills College, Oakland; San Diego Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Art; Serra Historical Museum, San Diego; University of Texas, TX; Yale University, CT.

Murals: Church of Mary, La Jolla; Santa Barbara Cemetary Chapel; Scripps College, Claremont.

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Louis Stern Fine Arts, (louissternfinearts.com)