Goodbye to Ouka Leele, color barbarian

There was a day when the pure photo was not enough for him. And he began to paint them. So he spent the rest of his life, from the late seventies until yesterday. This Tuesday she Bárbara Allende passed away at the age of 64. Ouka Lele or Ouka Leele, who took her stage name from a star that appeared in a star chart invented by the painter José Alfonso Morera, El Hortelano, was the creator of the colorful image of the first democratic Spain. She was the first to break with Franco's grey, with a series that would change her life and that of the history of Spanish photography: Peluquería, from 1979. Barely three years had passed since she began to photograph in black and white and appeared in the Spectrum gallery in Barcelona with a set of portraits of friends and curious characters whom he had dressed up and then colored. That work already contained everything that would make him a perfect paradigm of her time.

Photo gallery: Ouka Leele colored the Transition

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Culture was the best showcase for socialist Spain, which only wanted to look forward, prosperity and progress. No memories, no past. The euphoria was as uncontrollable as the money invested in the first democratic culture, the one that was celebrated without knowing the limit of its possibilities. Javier Solana, minister of the branch, explained to the deputies that "replacing the economic man with the cultural man" was possible. And Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio wrote that "as soon as I hear the word culture, I issue a blank check to the bearer." In 1986 Andy Warhol visited Madrid, socialism divorced itself from Marxism, Miquel Barceló was in charge of painting a new Spain and the Movida became the symbol of youth and apolitical renewal. And Bárbara Allende takes her camera out and takes a picture of the interior patio where she lived in the early eighties. From left to right are Alberto García Alix, el Hortelano, Ceesepe and Agust. Unpainted, blank an black.

The tribute photo to El Hortelano [D.E.P.]
From left to right: Alberto Garcia Alix, El Hortelano, Ceesepe, Agust.
And the photo is of Ouka Leele

– Peio H. Riaño (@PeioHR) December 20, 2016

"I knew what I was going to be when I grew up: a painter and I dreamed of inventing colors." What the girl Bárbara Allende still did not know was that she would paint her photos with watercolors. What we still don't know today is how to define her: painter or photographer. She is perhaps a painter of photographic paintings, in which she also acts as a stage director and she mounts the scene, the gestures, the props as if she were a still life, a still life or an act of a play. To clarify the label, it is important to remember two references that she never renounced, Salvador Dalí and René Magritte. She also did not forget her walks through the Prado Museum, in which the eyes of the girl Bárbara remained riveted on El Greco. "I looked at the color red only, as if it were an abstract painting, without knowing what abstract art was," she said.

He was captivated by photography the day he discovered an enlarger in the closet of his parents' house and saw the secret image appear on paper, "as if by magic." Bárbara Allende, niece of the poet Jaime Gil de Biedma, was born into a family where the brush, the camera and “the montage of black and white movies” were normal. The girl who wanted to be a painter was awarded the National Photography Prize in 2005 for representing with her work a "decisive testimony of the sensitivity and Spanish artistic life from the eighties to today". That year's jury spoke of her sensitivity and her personal chromatic and narrative contributions, "which tend to question the limits of photography." In other words, Ouka Leele did not photograph what she saw, but what she felt. And that was the origin of the hairdresser portraits of her.

Then came The Kiss, in 1980, arguably the most iconic photo by an artist gifted at creating one unforgettable image after another. A man and a woman forcefully kiss, clashing their teeth more than their lips, a desperate and aggressive gesture that reveals what we resist when it comes to sharing affection. And that shocking and acid range of colors so typical of that moment. “I am more and more aware that we are color. It is an intuition: there is much more color in us than we use. We are closed in grays and browns, because we are very color shy, when color is life. In the process I make the copy on paper and use dense watercolor so that the color looks real. Although my colors are not real. I like to see life as with the eyes of a lover always. Because reality is not only what we see. There is much more". This long explanation that Allende gave to this journalist insists on his intuition as an artist and on his intention to transcend the reality with which he works.

The painter who photographs, the stage designer who paints, portrays the protagonists of the eighties in Madrid (Enrique Sierra, Ana Curra, Pedrín Herrando, Alberto García Alix, among many friends). In 1996, she climbs onto a terrace with María, her daughter, and a cart full of fruit. The Madrid City Council, with José María Álvarez del Manzano at the helm, has commissioned the poster for Los Veranos de la Villa. And she makes history again with a sweet, nostalgic, warm and loving image. In the background, the rooftops of the city. The grapes, the watermelons, the siesta, the heat... And below, to the right, the shopping cart. It snuck into the photo and it was not the artist's intention. Chance also played in her recreations and let her pass. “Having the camera is a ritual to invoke inspiration, but then you have to be open to welcome whatever happens. Rigidity doesn't work,” she explained to make peace with failure and allow it to act alongside success.

He was so fascinated by reality that he dedicated himself not only to repainting it, but to composing it. Another of her milestones is Atalanta and Hippomenes, made in 1999, at the Cibeles fountain in Madrid, near the lions that this couple ended up becoming. She wallowed in reality, in the pleasure of fun, play and invention. A painful pleasure: when she started to paint them her whole body ached. They were many hours concentrated and quiet, working on the photo. She was her intimacy, the one that happened after going out to work and interact. She went from public life on the street to the intimate life of her workshop. The external vision and the internal vision that she reveals to us that life is a work of art, an inexhaustible adventure towards the freedom of creation, even if we insist on screwing it up.

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