Alberto Ulloa And Latin American Art
Iconography of a personal language revealed in the aesthetics of contemporary Latin American Art.
Abil Peralta Aguero*
Dedicated to Master Antonio Fernandez Spencer, Poet and Essayist, In Memoriam
From the moment the incessant art critic Marta Traba orchestrated her repertoire of distinctive voices, to affirm her research for the transcendental contributions that Latin American art and culture have made over the course of nearly a century, to the inner American hemisphere aesthetic, conceptual and structural configuration of Western art (1), basically regarding the powerful laboratories that were formed in the metropolitan centers of France (surrealist tendencies that with André Bretón at the head spread all over the world) and New York, center axis of modern aesthetic thought; Latin American art as an autonomous aesthetic found the appropriate space for international attention.
This firm theoretical postulation was evidenced when the influential actions of the protagonists of Mexican murals (2) were clearly and decisively established as the primary base of an aesthetic of Latin American art; clearly differentiated and with enough conceptual weight for autonomy that legitimize it as the thought from which the criterion of beauty of our humanistic, artistic and cultural identity flows and has always flowed.
The categorical imperative of an aesthetic theory, that takes from the West the right to the dignity of our contributions. Marta Traba proposes the conceptual and structural formulations that specific countries such as Mexico from muralists; Brazil, from his theory of anthropophagic resistance (3), and Argentina, from very varied creative actions of wide capacity of conceptual, technical and stylistic rupture in the artistic production.
With a scientific and theoretical foundation of great erudition, the Colombian aesthete values, the base of influence that were given from the contributions, which in a proven way added to the redefinition of western modernity based on the contributions of the Mexican muralist artists. Together with the structural and conceptual proposals of Wilfredo Lam, Armando Reverón and Joaquín Torres García, of sufficient weight as an aesthetic document to redefine a broader theoretical platform that would translate into a philosophical, aesthetic, historical and methodological exercise, for the affirmation of an essentially Latin American aesthetic.
The same contribution affirming this phenomenon, came from the hands and editorial projects of the professor and critic of American art, Edward Sullivan, who made a transcendental contribution, published in 1996. His book entitled Latin American Art of the Twentieth Century (4), offers us a broad multidisciplinary theoretical exercise in which, as an anthology of critical texts, qualified voices of specialists from Latin America themselves, from their diversity of vision and ideological and cultural differentiation, expose a data based, analytical, historical and informatic repertoire, that as scientific data proves and legitimizes the clearest definition of an aesthetic of Latin American art.
These studies contributed as theoretical exercises by prestigious researchers of our artistic expressions, managing to stimulate the incorporation of the knowledge of our art to the influence map of the normative voices of Western art of the Century. Endorsed by a sustained methodology and a repertoire of events, which in a direct relationship with the atavistic, anthropological, archaeological, sociological, ideological, religious and cultural sources of our beings, served our most emblematic creators to legitimize this contribution to the sciences of universal artistic and cultural knowledge.
It is now that Latin American art has real attention as a subject of study in the centers of power of contemporary international thought, as is currently the case in Spain, New York, Germany, France, Italy, England and Japan. Countries and cities in which academic research on Latin American aesthetics and art, is already a raw material in the formation of contemporary intelligence, associated with knowledge of international art.
My previous reflection is to postulate that it is not possible to deepen with responsibility, in the understanding of the work of the famous Dominican painter Alberto Ulloa, if you do not have the domains of these fundamental tools, as the formulations that record the origin and link of his art, as part of a family of one of the most authentic expressions of international art. It is, under a clear scientific demonstration, Latin American art as an aesthetic with its own hemispheric category.
At a time when the central nervous system and the aesthetic and philosophical foundations that sustain the art of null are questioned (5), his presence impetuously affirms painting as the normative language of the very diverse systems of creation, that for centuries have been gravitating towards the scrutiny of the past and present civilizations.
As part of that natural process of evolution and transformational change, founded on the result that has always moved the dialectic that drives the wheel of history and moves Western art. At present, proposing their aesthetic formulations, numerous visual artists in Europe, United States and the rest of America, probably moved to a level of discretion before the intimidating fragment industry and the postmodern plurality. This legitimized and objectified all human making under the aesthetic optics of work of art, before universal cultures and economies.
The everything is worth as art, relegated the frequency of painting, sculpture and drawing in the priorities of the agendas of art throughout the world. There is no doubt about that.
At a present of plurality and sustained globalization of creative practice as a direct ideological exercise of power, it resumes with dignity and splendor, painting the space that has always corresponded to it, as the basis of all connective relationship that in terms of contribution and evolution of the visual image, has been referring to humanity from the art of the caverns and the structural proposals of Greek and Egyptian art.
It has corresponded to painting, sculpture and drawing, to be the most appropriate weapons for the ordering and rationalization of the visual image. Warning the need to keep it incorporated with sufficient degree of value and democracy to the global aesthetic, in an order where one looks and a serious difference is made between the one who knows how to make chaos, of who is chaos because in essence it does not know how to do anything in art. It is because just one more resident of the already exhausted citizens of the small global village of creative illiterates, who by an intra historical accident welcomed as their own, the vivid and premonitory global village of Mcluhan (6).
Return the painting to its site after the commotion of Kassel 97 and the challenges of London with the famous exhibitions of the year 2000, as aesthetic betting of the spectacle of provocation in the name of art, presented with dignity and vigor their credentials numerous artists of very varied formations and styles, that like the Dominican Alberto Ulloa, never stopped drawing, painting, carving or feeding the fire with clay for ceramic cooking.
Like many other Latin American artists, Ulloa swallowed his scapulars and ate dramatic silences to continue living in the name of the same art that created Leonardo, Goya and Lautrec.
The spirit of my painting comes from Lascaux and Altamira until our days. The silent flower of time has always rained in my works and I hear the spring of art grow in her now. This is a work full of fantasy, populated with desolation and love. I seem to see in these paintings the applause of the sun, the deep cries of the man when they squeeze his juice on the thirst of a day, the cries of this humanity when the bread flies away from his mouth. Alberto Ulloa testimony in 1998.
This Alberto Ulloa of the Caribbean, carrier of a pictorial language in full correspondence with the best-founded discourses of Latin American aesthetics, registered the bases of his primary alphabetic during his art studies at the prestigious Complutense University of Madrid, with extended studies at La Real Academia de San Fernando, of the same Spanish city where he lived for several years (7).
Although artistic settings of the great countries and cities of the world have received their art: Italy, Singapore, Israel, Argentina, Switzerland, Mexico, England, Brazil, France, Venezuela, Germany, Japan, Holland and the United States, it is precisely in Spain where the artist looks first, from the academic point of view and then from the condition of a painter who bets on the conceptual and structural rupture, the raw material that would create his sensibility, imagination and expertise in mastering different techniques and materials to become an alchemist of light, space, color, volume, architecture, energy, atmosphere, line, emotional furor and silence in his painting (8).
It is evident that they spoke to him: Goya, Velásquez and El Greco; and from that Madrid of his studies and other European cities that he visited as part of his Madrid period, he discovered the enigmatic planimetric spacing and figural roundness of the female face in Paul Klee and the verticality, elongation and primitive volumetric roundness in his female characters in Modigliani, for then, in his look at the art world, nourished himself with the trembling and atmospheric color torrent of Kandinsky.
Attending a rational contact with American abstraction through the drilling of Pollock (9), pictorial resource that assumes with intelligence, intensity and creative responsibility, to pose as a personal aesthetic foundation, a work overwhelming and seductive in its plasticity, and so critical, from the Latin American map and aesthetic as that of Alejandro Obregón, one of his most notable formal, coloristic and structural arbiter.
Ulloa assumes the behavior of a dangerous man, by the resonant plurality with which he administers poetry, light, color and the semantic proposals of his plastic discourse. He is a dangerous artist, because like the great universal masters who have transcended the mimicry of the image, when they beat anesthetized, wound or kill like Goya, Velázquez, Picasso, or Obregón himself.
To understand the emanating reasonings that flow like chromatic bursts or space-dynamic resonances from the interior of their canvases, in which the human and animals enthroned as metaphorized men and women prevail, we must delve into the knowledge of the social history of Latin American art, from where the Dominican artist operates his work as an authentic device, associated with the ideological proposals of the founders of our aesthetics, regulated by the formulations of Mexican muralism: David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera, aesthetic and enriched conceptual scheme for the contributions of Roberto Matta, Joaquín Torres García, Wilfredo Lam and Alejandro Obregón (10).
This referential link gives the painter, sculptor, sketcher and ceramist Alberto Ulloa a broad multidisciplinary approach, that does not allow him to create a closed linear painting in his discursive structure, but induces him to establish the foundations of a language based on an open pictoriality (11), that values in all its aesthetic determination, the psychological phenomenon of the visual image and its passion for communicating and dialoguing from differentiated alphabetic units.
This is the reason why Alberto Ulloa assumes himself as a multi-technical, multi-layered and multi-semantic artist at the same time, valuing throughout his hierarchy the most successful aesthetic expressions as the most representative of his pictorial production, as was the case with many artists. The most emblematic cases of the last century, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí, who were able to exhaust with remarkable success all the art routes within a creative frenzy that ended the day of their respective deaths.
The artist from Altamira, Puerto Plata, in the North of the Dominican Republic, painting from the structural foundations of a liquid line, endowed with a massive, invasive and loose force, raises his expression to the level of lightning material to propose a personal way of representing the image, starting from expressionist figurative formulations, to expressions of abstract expressionism, with roots so diverse that they go from the original contributions of Pablo Picasso and his bets to analytical cubism, to the sensual formulations of light and color that Kandinsky gives us or the Neo Cubist postulations of Orphism.
A reading of his work as a unit in diversity, integrated into the plurability as the foundational absolute of postmodernity, places Alberto Ulloa's pictorial production as a creative act over which relevant doctrinal domains do not weight, because for him freedom is an act, passionate paranoia of the critical conscience of his own being.
From such an environment, there is no human force or thought that contaminates the conduct of his theology of truth, so that the scenes of an old general, the kiss of lovers, the cry of the poor of Latin America, affected by the global marginalization of big capital, or the atmosphere of a landscape of Isla Saona (13), where it defies all the spatial regulations of the Euclidean and Renaissance perspective, in order to approach the spells of Byzantine aesthetics and medieval, gambling under the lyrical and epic regime of poetry, the hypnotic power of Kabbalah, the seduction of metaphor and the intra significance of the symbol.
It is not common for an artist educated and celebrated in the Spain of his education, where he found social and cultural attention and approval, that his painting has processed the dialectical evolution of his discourse towards the more concrete roots that in their historicity, define the foundations of Latin American aesthetics. He could have turned his eyes towards the most representative alphabetics of modernity and Spanish classicism. It was not like that, he knew them, studied them, how they felt, but he made them evolve as circularity in the different dynamic phases that throughout his 30 years of career, have driven the evolution of his painting.
The semiological sign of Alberto Ulloa, from the pictorial surface announces its transit through the various periods that designate and give theoretical corporeity to Latin American aesthetics, indigenous or pre-Columbian art, colonial art, postcolonial art, indigenism, romanticism, pre modernist Latin America, Latin American modernism and the contemporary expressions of what he is today, from the field of painting, sculpture, drawing and ceramics, one of his most consistent and rational postulants.
Currently, the referents to specify a categorical status of link with the Latin American aesthetic is his own technical evolution, stylistic and conceptual reason why he has decided to see himself, enriching that view from a symbolic proposal abutting the iconography of the Colombian Alejandro Obregón.
From these reflexive and wise readings, the Dominican Master activates the repertoire of a more representational narratology, based on rustlers and his very personal portraiture, without forgetting his landscape proposal and his strange formulations in the spatial structuring of his still lives, designed from an architectural and compositional formulation, as reference languages to Latin American pictorial aesthetics.
It is a valuable conceptual contribution in terms of design and visual composition, giving an image that ensures universality to its expression and ability to liberate painting from apparently elementary mathematics such as still life, although we show that European modernity, when it reforms the structural and aesthetic values of this expression, originally starts from the scientific foundation of primary cubism, proposed from the space-dynamic formulations of Paul Cezanne (14).
The seismic tremor, character and atmosphere of seduction that Alberto Ulloa's painting affirm from its grammar of color and light architecture, turn it into a phenomenon that induces the gaze, proposing its art as a subject of study for the work tables of Gestalt psychology (15), because the best successes of his paintings culminate before the perceiving eye converted it into memorable substance.
The multiplanic juxtapositions that he armed as discourses associated with his collage-creations, derive from an analytical cubism, planned and revolving cubism, without emphasizing spatial depth, because he and his pictorial temperament are not interested in emptiness and nothingness; he is interested in feeling the echo of the inheritance, the resonance of the myth of the mystical power of love as a mysterious substance for coexistence and pleasure, or the miracle of the creation of life. It is the reason why many of these themes are so punctual in the symbolic geography of his paintings.
Without assuming an ideological and dogmatic discourse, Alberto Ulloa kills if he has to, as Fernando Botero did well in his responsible and dignified contribution with his art to the death of Latin American militarism. The Dominican artist, in keeping with this thought behavior of Latin American aesthetics and ideology, also prints his canvases as a preventive reality and a sociological and anthropological document of our hemispheric aesthetics, his series on generals and military (16), a theme that is a pain in his art, a teleological summary of his future pictorial documentation.
Supported by harsh colors in its glowing material-chromatic mass and in its wise administration of light and poetic ritualized atmosphere, so characteristic of dialogic psychology with the viewer, this man becomes a speaker, a shaman and a warrior at the same time, imprinting his bold fabric deformations of a strong expressive content, that when they reach their maximum pictorial level, force the spectator to a recodification of observation.
His paintings, of a strong ritual character in the articulation of his material applications, rhythms and chromogenic movements, find in the sphere, the dentate structure, and what we have denominated "comb effect" (act of striating the dentate structures) in his fabrics (17), the category of lethal weapon, so appropriate for intellectual reflection on the value of space, color and interior architecture, in saying through contemporary painting.
Ulloa is nothing contemplative and cold, it is a hurricane in the atmosphere and temperament of his art. Their bestiary structures, between the hallucination of a bull with the lost look and the utopia of a new Quixote, bet on the value of vertebrate sign languages as notes of notebooks, that rediscover them in time and space, provoke sensations and thrilling emotions in the spectator (18).
The enigmatic power and power of the calligraphic sign, exposed on its telic surfaces in the manner of Japanese sign structures, elevates the circle to the category of recurrent symbol in its paintings and sculptures, as if it were a superior and super sensitive algebraic formulation that assumes the mystery of his spirituality, which he subscribes calligraphically from different aesthetic, philosophical and theological levels, close to the cosmic and to the imago patented as a timeless value of the reality referred to nature, as it is well stated in his Thomistic aesthetics, by Santo Tomas de Aquino (19).
A critical reading of the repertoire of his paintings recently cataloged by the outstanding Poet and Critic of Art Cándido Gerón, recently published in the country, plus my condition of witness in the workshop and companion during several trips around the world with the artist, give me the enough moral and professional strength to explore and know directly pictorial structures and undeciphered worlds of his work, and try to understand very complex phenomena that involve the subtractive images, which in the manner of epiphanic/epiphanies phenomena, we feel and see emerge in their fabrics as representational formations, that are formed to penetrate the deepest retinal perceptibility of the viewer; interior images that by way of trompe l'oeil, appear until capturing the sensitive state of the one who witness the events that take place on his canvases.
How to lie then, before an artist who prints soul, breath and his glory in every gesture, in every verse, in every chromatic lightning, in every wound and in every verb that he conjugates in his canvas?
Without having to assume a history as the driving line of his creative acts, Alberto Ulloa denies the fragment's aesthetics in order to reserve his own space in contemporary painting, playing stylistically and conceptually between figural betting and non-figuration, between the expressionist formulation and the informal gesture, between the symbolism and the semiosis of the sign that in the form of a kabbalah bursts in the consciousness of the spectator eye to celebrate love, faith, pain, time, anguish, childhood, hope, anger, military repression and the seasonal mysticism of the seasons, loving dawn and spring in his paintings, without leaving behind his passion for the deciphering of madness and music, always present, both in his paintings and in his sculptures.
To plant that unfathomable creative wager, he appeals to the inner ordering of the space in the manner of a savage baroque, that establishes his mathematics of the sign to count very diverse objects that participate in the compositional and scenic structure of his canvases, creating an anarchic order that allows him to, in turn, by the factual rigor of the impressions and poetic force of his affirmations, deny the visual rhythm of the realm of quantity (20), to induce us to resemantize a poetics of calligraphic signs that participates in a dynamic way in the administration of space, design, volume and interior drawing calligraphy of their fabrics.
As resources that the academy has given him and his free capacity for rupture, Alberto Ulloa values in all its extension the material surface, the one that attacks with insane passion with extra pictorial elements that from the superposition-collage, allows him to assemble complex puzzles where articulates chromatic phenomena that, learned from Kandinsky and Gorky, are enriched in their fabrics with the mysterious foundations of light assimilated from their amorous approximation to Goya.
Blow after blow that shake the stare and consciousness of the observer is what we feel when from paintings like the one titled American Scream (21), the artist becomes an interpreter of the history of the pain that has given body to our Latin America, from the conquerors to our days of globalization and digital era, a phenomenon that we see as an authentic expression of freedom of an artist who refuses to deny his true nature of being free, in the exercise of painting and in his recognition of art, as the philosophical foundation of the plurality and inner freedom in every creator.
Hence, from the same way that approaches unpublished formulations in the Dominican landscape, is also able to propose as learning Klee, Modigliani or Brancucci, geometric anatomical structures that transit between the elongation, ovality and roundness of the female face, so characteristically in the design of primitive Africa.
Alberto Ulloa is categorical in his exercises of freedom, he goes back from one expression to another in his work. A mozaic design of structures and bestiary in which he valorizes the emptiness as integrated and harmonious, not variegated structures. He applies them in his fabrics in the manner of Egyptian aesthetics, just as the medieval and Byzantine art practices incorporated it into the structural corpus of the subject.
For this artist, the strength of the line and the furtive brush associated with his sinuous or broken lines form part of his psychological strategy to create a painting that, in its subject-spectator relationship, ends up remaining as a kabbalistic seal in the eye and spirit of the person who looks; a phenomenon that is ancient practice in the production of icons (22), a formulation exclusively reserved for the contemplation and valorization of the votive image in the orthodox religion, which in the particular case of the Dominican painter, can only be denied by the perversely practice of the hypocrisy of the look.
After this exercise of philosophical-reflexive character, as a deduction, I can only propose, not as a hypothesis, but as an affirmative thesis, that in the iconographic repertoire of the Latin American-Caribbean Master Alberto Ulloa reside and interact from the realm of the parable, the Kabbalah and the metaphor, symbolic structures that demonstrate their discourse in the elite realm that Latin American painting has given in its space of transit between the twentieth and twenty first centuries, reaffirming the aesthetic scrutiny as an analytical-scientific exercise that can neither deny the dynamics of history, nor the rhythm of what needs revelation as a document of a specific moment in the culture of humanity.
Right in the middle of this new scenario for the contemplation of life is the painting of Alberto Ulloa with his seductive, electric, provocative, poetic, critical and speaking ability, to resonate as a voice that believed, wagered and assumed painting as an intratemporal and affirmative formulation of modern and contemporary Latin American aesthetics.
By Abil Peralta Aguero
Poet, Art Critic and Curator. Member of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA, Unesco). Member of the Dominican Association of Art Critics, and current Director of the Museum of Contemporary Drawing MUDIC.
(1) Art of Latin America 1900-1980. Marta Traba. Editions Inter-American Development Bank, 1994. Prologue -Vlll-. "For Marta Traba it was unthinkable to criticize art isolated from the economic, political and social context of the continent. Consequently, the present text structures the evolution of modernism in Latin America through these factors, that is, interlinking the relations of life in different countries with its aesthetic creation. The primordial hypotheses that are posed in this book are the following ones: - The set of the Mexican muralism was not only a product of the revolution, but of a new artistic attitude in front of the modernist winds arrived from Europe. -In coincidence with Mexican muralism, the countries of greatest European immigration, for example, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, became strong areas of formal investment; while individuals from other countries such as Lam, Reverón and Torres García, had the same behavior and became prominent figures in the international arena. Metaphysics of light. Essay written as a Prologue by the Ex-President of Colombia Belisario Betancur for the book Arte de América Latina 1900-1980 by Marta Traba.
(2) Work Cited. Note 1, pp. 2, 3, 14. "The most accurate and dispassionate critical rereading currently made of muralism, or Mexican school, coincides in considering it as the most important movement of the continental plastic art of the beginning of the century. He was the only one able to point out the need for an art other than easel painting, one that would fulfill the social role of first importance in the new Latin American societies. Marta Traba
(3) Work Cited. Note 1, pp. 53, 54.
(4) Latin American Art of the XX Century. Edward Sullivan, Editorial Nerea, Madrid, 1996.
(5) Revista Arte al Dia Internacional. Commemorative edition of the publication No.100. Latin American Art. SRL, Buenos Aires, 2003. Several North American, European and Latin American authors with diverse opinions about the validity of painting in current art, including the opinion of Abil Peralta Agüero.
(6) Postmodernity and Christianity. The Fragment Challenge. José Mª Mardones. Col. Theological Presence. Editorial Sal Térreas. Bilbao, 1988.
(7) Alberto Ulloa / Fantastic Visionary. Fantastic Watcher. Cándido Gerón. Editora Corripio, 2005, Santo Domingo, pp. 62, 63, 282, 283.
(8) Encyclopedia Britannica. Ref. of the Dominican painter Alberto Ulloa. Volume -V-. Edition 1998.
(10) Work Cited. Note 1, p. 66.
(11) Masterpieces of Contemporary Thought. Umberto Eco. Editorial Ariel S.A., Barcelona, 1985.
(12) El Paseante Magazine. (Tenth anniversary). What was the 20th century? When art was modern or postmodern. Several authors. Ediciones Siruela S.A., Madrid, 1995.
(13) Work Cited. Note 7, p. 119. Ref. Painting entitled, "Sunset on Isla Saona".
(14) Work Cited. Note 7, p. 180. Ref. Painting entitled "Bodies in the sea".
(15) Psychology and Visual Arts. J. How and other authors. Visual Communication Collection. Editorial Gustavo Gili, S.A, Barcelona, 1969.
(16) Work Cited. Note 7, pp. 71, 113, 141, 165, 163. Titled paintings, "Any General", "The General and the Window", "Portrait of Yeyo Ochoa in Vietnam", "The Military" and "The General".
(17) Work Cited. Note 7, p. 252. Ref. Painting titled, "El Toro de Altamira".
(18) Work Cited. Note 7, p. 147. Ref. Paintings titled "El Toro Loco", and in "Alberto Ulloa, Time to be Born", Armando Álvarez Bravo, Editions Elmerdorf Colors, Puerto Rico, 1997. Ref. Painting entitled, "From the series after Don Quixote", p. 28.
(19) Art and Beauty in Medieval Aesthetics. Humberto Ecco pp. Editorial Lumen S.A. 1999, Barcelona, pp. 93,106.
(20) The Kingdom of Quantity and the Signs of the Times. René Guanón, Paidos Orientalia, Madrid, 1997.
(21) Work Cited. Note 18, p.13. Ref. Painting titled, "Black Scream".
(22) Icons. Abil Peralta Agüero. Essay published by APA on the occasion of the exhibition of original Russian and other Eastern European icons, presented at the Artemira Art Gallery of Santo Domingo in 1999.
(23) Alberto Ulloa paintings courtesy of Phillip Braudy Collection.