Photo by Ellen McDermott
Divinities, celestial themes, rising figures, and flying vessels are typical cosmic subjects from the iconographic directory of self-taught artists. Included in this category are pedestaled and idealized women, singularly or all at once goddess, star, femme fatale, Madonna, and empress. Reina (queen) by Martín Ramírez does not depict a popular Mexican figure like the Virgin of Guadalupe but a woman with the attributes and posture of the Immaculate Conception—the Virgin Mary, queen of heaven and earth. The consecration of the Immaculate Conception is an act by which someone, married or not, makes a commitment to take Mary into his own life. This piece is one of the many versions of a celebrated theme by the artist, who was known to be a devout Catholic. When represented in his works, she rarely wears the traditional blue scapular but, rather, attire displaying the recurring patterns—repetitive and hypnotic stripes, curls, and ribs—seen in the artist’s landscapes and architectural structures. The dark piece of cloth draped across her forearms suggests the letter M from his first name. Referring to another work by Ramírez with a very similar figure, art historian Víctor M. Espinosa alleges that it could be an image of the artist’s wife, for whom he may have felt guilty for abandoning: “There is something human, something not sacred in the image.”
Valérie Rousseau, “Reina,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.