Father of Mexican Modern Art: Alfredo Ramos Martinez

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Alfredo Ramos Martinez

The art of Alfredo Ramos Martinez is a celebration of Mexico that inspired a generation of muralists and Mexican artists. Fruit and flower venders, farm workers, and the Mexican landscape are all represented in earthy, warm colors. None of the space is wasted and each line carries meaning. His works are distinct and full of sincerity.

From a young age, Martinez was a talented artist. Born in Monterrey, Mexico in 1871, his family was very supportive of his interest in art. At nine he painted a portrait of the Governor of Monterrey that was eventually sent to an exhibition in San Antoino, Texas. Impressed by his work, Martinez won first prize and the ability to attend Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes in Mexico City.

He did not enjoy his time in school, feeling that it striped the artist of individuality. Disheartened, Martinez would often wander away whenever he could and observed everyday life in Mexico City. The sunny plazas and narrow streets became a sanctuary and muse for sketches and watercolors.

Alfredo Ramos Martinez

Alfredo Ramos Martinez

Martinez soon found escape. Phoebe Apperson Hearst, mother of William Randolph Hearst, paid an official visit to Mexico City in 1899. The Mexican President requested that Martinez create hand printed menus for an official dinner. Phoebe Hearst was so impressed that she asked to meet Martinez and offered to pay a monthly stipend for him to study in Paris.

Martinez fell in love with Paris and lived there for fourteen years. While in Paris, he developed a post-Impressionist style. Post-Impressionism sought to express emotional depth and go beyond simply distorting subjects. This shift was characterized with new abstract leanings and a sense of independence.

While in Paris, Martinez discovered a new kind of canvas. He had run out of sketch paper and asked his landlord if he had anything to spare. The landlord gave him newspaper. The use of newspaper gave his art a new kind of texture and quickly became a favorite medium.

The stirring Mexican Revolution prompted Martinez to return to Mexico.  Upon his return, his alma mater offered a teaching position. Martinez refused, stating that he was too rebellious for academia. After he learned that it was the students who requested him, he accepted the post.

Thanks to this teaching post, he was able to found the Open Air School Project, which encouraged painting outside and breaking away from European style and teaching methods. Martinez encouraged his students to paint Mexican subjects and to express themselves fully. Muralist David Alfaro Siquieros was among his students.

In 1929, Martinez moved to Los Angeles for the wellbeing of his infant daughter, who suffered from a bone disease.  Martinez introduced California to Mexican iconography and mural works. Many were captivated by his work. Celebrities such as screenwriter Jo Swerdling, designer Edith Head, and Alfred Hitchcock all commissioned murals from him.

Hailed by some as the Father of Mexican Modern Art, Martinez has sadly been overlooked in recent years. However, this does not diminish Martinez’s legacy. He inspired the artists of southern California and his own students with his love of his native country and inventive style.

 

Kenny Ackerman is an Art Dealer in New York, specializing in Fine Art Paintings from 19th-21st century Europe and America. To buy or sell original paintings by artists we represent, contact Ackerman’s Fine Art here.

 

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