ArtCaribe was established with the objective of introducing and exposing the works of ALBERTO ULLOA one of the major artists from the Caribbean and Latin American Regions. It is a platform for artworks by this unheralded master and committed to educating art lovers and collectors on his rich and immense contribution to the world of art.
Alberto Ulloa telephoned me at home one unseasonably cool night in Boca Chica. By then, he had learned that I was a new and very enthusiastic collector of his work and acquired my phone number. We met and became instant friends.
I loved his paintings, he was witty, a great conversationalist, enjoyed good wine, cooking, and ended most evenings with a wicked game of dominos.
Ulloa was the second of eighteen children born to a tobacco and coffee farmer, Octavio Ulloa Martinez and his wife Élida Colón Moya. Their small farm was located in Altamira, a sleepy hilly town near the coastal city of Puerto Plata, in the northern region of the Dominican Republic.
The warm endless days began with seven-year-old Alberto and his older brother Julio accompanying their father in the daily pre-dawn routine of picking coffee, cropping and priming tobacco, harvesting beans and yucca, or milking cows. A bath in cool rain water, warmed fresh cow’s milk and mashed plantains for breakfast, would be followed by a long walk or occasional mule ride to the one-room wooden schoolhouse kilometers away.
Altamira was the cosmos. Alberto, an extraordinary child, would preserve and cherish it. A place where imaginary and real events, unusual life-forms, plants, animals, ghosts, creatures from unknown worlds and story-book personalities, would flourish. Where an innate and intense appreciation of color was born.
Alberto was totally absorbed and aware of every detail of his environment. Life was a slow motion movie with lush vegetation, a multitude of birds simultaneously chirping, the noise of cockfighting, encounters with four-legged animals: the adventures of a inquisitive boy infused the symbols and foundational elements that shaped the talent of a remarkable Caribbean artist.
Young Alberto was an avid reader and loved to draw. He discovered his portraits of Major League Baseball players were very popular: they created a demand and he began selling them to schoolmates and, neighbors. In sharp contrast to his older brother Julio, who was content to be a farm laborer, he was ambitious. It allowed him to join the musical combo of a childhood friend, Wilfrido.
Wilfrido Vargas would become a superstar of popular Merengue dance music. Ulloa was determined to have a different destiny, he would aim for the sky to find a star. By the age of fifteen he moved to Santo Domingo, the capital and largest city in the country, and worked with his uncle in a fresh fruit and vegetable market. It was his opportunity to complete High School and enroll in the elite Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes. The prestigious art institution founded by outstanding Spanish and European artists forced into exile after the Spanish Civil War: colleagues of Modigliani, Braque, Gris, and Gargallo. Students of the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes were required to be proficient in painting, drawing, sculpture and ceramics. Similar to fashion designer Oscar De La Renta, who attended the art school before him,
Alberto Ulloa was a distinguished student, graduating with honors. He was rewarded with a full scholarship in postgraduate studies at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, in the heart of Madrid, Spain. The barefoot boy with dreams would receive an advanced degree as Professor of Art from an institution that produced Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso.
Living in Europe opened doors for the young artist and he seized every opportunity. In 1975, his first year in Spain, he entered several competitions and quickly established a presence in art circles. He wins first prize in the Primer Premio Bienal Internacional de Arte, Marbella, and second prize in painting from Colegio Hispanoamericano, Madrid.
The following year he has a solo exhibition at the prestigious Palacio de Cristal de Retiro in Madrid. This exhibition brought him to the attention of Her Majesty Queen Sophia of Spain. She was so impressed with his work he receives generous encouragement from the royal palace. Soon he is participating in as many as nine expositions a year, having exhibitions simultaneously on two different continents.
He also wins the Premio Nacional de Pintura Adaja. He is invited and participates in many European art fairs.
A creative spirit with a ferocious work ethic: his extraordinary capacity to produce is awesome. He is relentless in work and social life. He savored Madrid´s nightlife and when not studying or working, he could be found in a museum dissecting the works of Goya, Velázquez and other Spanish masters. To satisfy his intellectual appetite he enrolled in the Universidad Complutense of Madrid, where he studied aesthetics, philosophy of art, poetry and literature. While painting, drawing and sculpting, he begins writing a book of poetry. It will be called Al Son del Amor, essentially the confessions of an impassioned romantic published several decades later.
The financial benefits of working in Europe make him the provider of the family. He is under pressured to travel to his country and assume responsibility for his brother and sisters. He will yield to a role that is formidable. Before migrating to Santo Domingo, he has the great satisfaction of his work being exhibited in the Palacio Real, the residence of the King and Queen of Spain.
Upon returning to his country, El Maestro Ulloa is celebrated. His work dominates the local art fairs. His clients include banking institutions, five-star hotels and a growing public. He befriends and accepts the invitation of the Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Ferré. The erudite statesman was a patron of the arts and had taken great interest in Ulloa. He invites him to exhibit his work at the most important museum in the Caribbean, Museo de Arte de Ponce, in spite of the protests of the Puerto Rican arts community. It would be a triumph. He returns to Borinquen to present his work in the halls of the legislative body of Puerto Rico.
Exhibitions follow in Miami, New York, Chicago, Boca Raton, Jersey City, Las Vegas, and Caracas. He would receive more awards, his work joins the permanent collection of the Museo de Arte Moderno of Santo Domingo. Ulloa meets Armando Alvarez Bravo, Cuban-born poet, esteemed author and art critic of El Nuevo Herald newspaper of Miami. The result is a book, Tiempo de Nacer, dedicated to the artist work with analysis, criticism and photos of breathtaking paintings. Bravo emphatically states´´Alberto Ulloa is an authentic expression of the Caribbean magic and spirit´´.
The Nineties were very productive. He writes several novels and participates in dozens of expositions around the world. He, however, is under enormous pressure. His two marriages will produce nine children and take a financial toll. He continues to support his brothers and sisters.
Through his contacts he obtains work visas for Julio and two other brothers, who migrate to Venezuela. The Dominican economy is depressed. He is obligated to accept a diplomatic position that enables him to return to Spain.
Ulloa is a man of great sentiment, he labors and sacrifices for his growing family. The New York Times requests an interview. It is the moment to parade his enormous talents and cement his future. Instead, distressed, an emotional Ulloa began ranting at the journalist that his ex-assistant was forging his name, counterfeiting and selling copycat versions of his work. It would be one of the worse mistakes of his career. The issue of intellectual property rights becomes the centerpiece of the article and submerges the beauty and power of Alberto Ulloa´s art.
His signed Certificate of Authenticity becomes a way of reestablishing himself with wary clients.
Although his presidential appointment as Consul in Spain ended, the following years he remained very productive. Several books would be published, one, by art critic Cándido Gerón, entitled, Alberto Ulloa: Visionario Fantástico, sells out. Health issues however, surface. Diabetes and respiratory problems begin attacking him. He has also accumulated substantial personal debt.
Autonomous, he resists and even sabotages efforts to administer his career. He signs agent-representation contracts he distrusts and disrespects. He is a disaster in business. He is forced to work long hours and sinks deeper in debt.
The last time Alberto Ulloa visited me in my office he was very ill. I urged him to consider receiving medical attention in the United States. We spent several hours together. He watched a DVD of my collection of his wonderful paintings and edited a yet to be printed book on his sculptures. As I escorted him to the door he stopped and gave me a warm embrace. He told me the visit made him feel much better. It was his farewell. He died several weeks later in a local hospital.
Five years after his death I decided to share his artistry by publishing his work on the Social Media. The response has been overwhelming. His chromatic magic seen in landscapes, animals from his early farm life, his use of collage, outrageous caricatures and tender human portraits has captured a global audience.
Ulloa’s compelling creative output and extraordinary versatility embraced Spain and fused it with something very new, fresh and uniquely Caribbean. He never stopped inventing and reinventing. He never stopped. He was a visionary, willing to take bold steps into a boundless universe of the imagination while paving the way for artists from small towns like Altamira. Alberto Ulloa, a great and unheralded master.