Alfredo Ramos Martinez at the Pasadena Museum of California Art

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Alfredo Ramos Martínez was a young aspiring artist in 1899 when he was invited to a state dinner held in Mexico City by President Porfirio Díaz. Phoebe Hearst, mother of the publisher and capitalist William Randolph, not only bought his work but gave him a stipend to go to Paris for seven years. Ramos Martínez went there for ten years and developed a technical proficiency and awareness of Modernism. He returned to Mexico on the eve of the Revolution and remained an active artist and teacher for 19 years though he never achieved a reputation equal to that of Los Tres Grandes: Rivera, Orozco, Siquieros, who was his student.


Alfredo Ramos Martínez, "Autoretrato / Self-Portrait," ca. 1938
Tempera on newsprint, 20 13/16 x 15 5/16 inches
Private Collection, courtesy of Louis Stern Fine Arts
© Alfredo Ramos Martinez Research Project, reproduced by permission


He moved with wife and daughter to LA in 1929, just as the Depression was forcing many Mexican workers back across the border. The work that he made here is the focus of the exhibition Picturing Mexico: Alfredo Ramos Martínez in California.


Alfredo Ramos Martínez, "El Defensor / The Protector," 1932
Tempera and Conté crayon on newsprint (Los Angeles Times, June 5, 1932), 21 x 15 1/2 inches
Private Collection, Courtesy of Louis Stern Fine Arts
© Alfredo Ramos Martinez Research Project, reproduced by permission


From our contemporary perspective, some of the most interesting works in this show are his drawings in gouache and conte crayon on newsprint, a technique first begun in Paris when he ran out of drawing paper. The combination of the advertisements and news of the day with his linear, cross-hatched and artfully colored representations of Mexican laborers and women seem especially current.


Ramos Martinez, "La Madre India / Indian Mother," ca. 1936
Crayon, 95 1/2 x 81 3/4 inches
San Diego Museum of Art, gift of the artist
© Alfredo Ramos Martinez Research Project, reproduced by permission

The show features studies of women, religious figures and landscapes which were collected by Hollywood figures Ernst Lubitsch, Charles Laughton and Beulah Bondi. Three of his murals have survived, including a particularly good work, with a repetitive pattern of devotional figures, in the chapel of the Santa Barbara Cemetery. Seeing even the drawings of themes used in these murals gives us a fuller sense of public art being done by Mexican artists in LA in the 30's including the recently restored of America Tropical by Siquieros on Olvera Street or Orozco's Prometheus at Pomona College.


Alfredo Ramos Martínez, "Vendedora de Alcatraces/Calla Lily Vendor," 1929
Oil on canvas, 45 13/16 x 36 inches
Private Collection
© Alfredo Ramos Martinez Research Project, reproduced by permission


An interesting timeline in the exhibition offers a schematic overview of how Ramos Martínez's work fit within this period of rapid development in LA, between his arrival in 1929 and his death in 1946 at the age of 73, one year after his solo show at the Dalzell Hatfield Gallery. The political and social developments in Mexico and Southern California, then as now so interrelated, are among the intriguing aspects of the exhibition. As organized by guest curator Amy Galpin, the artist emerges as an under appreciated figure who interpreted iconic, sometime predictable Mexican subject matter -- plump women holding calla lilies, heroic workers, rolling landscapes-- with his own highly stylized method of controlling space through pattern and rhythm. The influence of pre-Colombian art, Cezanne and Picasso in Paris, as well as Art Deco, as asserted by critic Christopher Knight, synthesize successfully, even originally, especially in his work on newsprint. There is no catalogue for the show but Louis Stern Fine Arts has published the handsome and well-illustrated Alfredo Ramos Martinez & Modernismo, which offers a more complete account of the artist's life and work. The show will travel to the Nevada Museum of Art May 10 to August 17.


Flora Kao, "Flora Kao: Homestead,: 2013
Oil stick on canvas
© Don Milici


Also at PMCA is Flora Kao: Homestead, another exhibition offering a window into Southern California history, the one-room cabins used by homesteaders who were given five acre parcels in the Mohave Desert if they settled the property according to the Small Tract Act of 1938. Most of those little dwellings have been abandoned. Kao used large sheets of canvas and made charcoal rubbings of the exterior and interior walls of a deserted cabin to recreated the structure by hanging them in a gallery. You can walk into or around the cabin and absorb the modest scale, the rough construction, the physical memory of the place bringing attention to a poignant history in a visceral and compelling way. Both are on view through April 20.

For more information go to, or check out this March 23 symposium at Scripps College in Claremont.

 Banner image: Detail of Alfredo Ramos Martínez's Frailes y Monjas / Friars and Nuns, 1932. Pastel and charcoal on paper, 23 1/4 x 34 3/8 inches. San Diego Museum of Art, Museum purchase. © Alfredo Ramos Martinez Research Project, reproduced by permission.