With its inventive materials, subject matter, and stylization, this drawing is a classic example of Martin Ramirez's work. The artist pieced together found scrap bits and pieces of paper with a homemade concoction of starch (bread or potato) and spit to create a suitably large surface for drawings. He often depicted moving trains, frequently entering or departing a tunnel, and just as often portrayed animals (frequently deer), soldierlike men on horseback, and madonnas of many different varieties. Central images are typically surrounded by decorative border motifs, and in Train it seems likely from the orderliness of line that Ramirez used some type of straight edge to execute the lines. The controlled line is admirable when one considers the rough, uneven surface pasted together from a variety of paper goods, including a greeting card and a candy box wrapper.
The composition of Train includes four horizontal bands; the primary action is a train exiting one tunnel only to enter another. One gets the feeling that this train just circles around and around, in and out of tunnels, on a never-ending journey. The other bands are decorative, recalling train tracks seen from a bird's-eye view and implying a moving landscape. Perhaps the artist was referencing his long, personal journey from Mexico to the United States, or the great distance between where he found himself and where he had been.
Ramirez created approximately three hundred works within the confines of Dewitt State Hospital in the northern California town of Auburn, where he resided from around 1948 until his death in 1963. He had migrated from Mexico to Los Angeles, where he was picked up on the streets in 1930 and institutionalized after being diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic. Ramirez's imagery clearly harks back to his homeland; the religious and nationalistic figures, as well as the decorative motifs, recall Mexico's rich history and culture.
Brooke Davis Anderson, "Train," in Stacy C. Hollander, American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2001), 389.