He was born in January 30, 1895 in Rincón de Velázquez, Tepatitlán, Jalisco, Mexico. He married María Santa Ana Navarro Velázquez in 1918. Ramirez migrated to the United States from Tepatitlan, Mexico to find employment, leaving behind his pregnant wife and three children. He worked on the railroads in California between 1925 and 1930. He knew no English and after six years he ended up unemployed and homeless. This led to him being detained by the police and institutionalized in 1931. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia, leaning towards catatonia. Ramírez spent over 30 years being institutionalized; first at Stockton State Hospital in Stockton, California, then, beginning in 1948, at DeWitt State Hospital in Auburn, near Sacramento, where he made the drawings and collages for which he is now known. At DeWitt, a visiting professor of psychology and art, Tarmo Pasto, came across Ramírez's work and began to save the large-scale works Ramírez made using available materials, including brown paper bags, scraps of examining-table paper, and book pages glued together with a paste made of potatoes and saliva. His works display an idiosyncratic iconography that reflect both Mexican folk traditions and twentieth-century modernization: images of Madonnas, horseback riders, and trains entering and exiting tunnels proliferate in the work, along with undulating fields of concentric lines that describe landscapes, tunnels, theatrical prosceniums, and decorative patterns.
He died in 1963.
Martín Ramírez (January 30, 1895 – February 17, 1963) was a self-taught artist who spent most of his adult life institutionalized in California mental hospitals, diagnosed as a catatonic schizophrenic. He is considered to be one of the 20th centuries self-taught masters.