By Pablo De Sainz
What kind of painting would hang on your house’s living room? Would it be a pretty one, with beautiful landscapes where everything is peace and perfection? Or maybe a portrait of a woman who looks straight into you, full of happiness?
Sure enough it would be a cute image, sweet. After all, it’s your house’s living room we’re talking about, right?
But, what if you find a painting where some E.T.-like dolls look at you with rings under their eyes, with their bald heads, with their disproportionate heads, with mouths that seem to scream at you? or how about a painting full of dark colors and dolls that look like zombies taken out from a horror movie?
What? These last paintings don’t seem as nice? Do they give you nausea? Shock you? Scare you? Do they produce hidden emotions and fears?
For your information, all that you felt when you imagined those strange paintings, all that and much more, you’ll feel when you see Mely Barragan’s paintings. She’s one of Tijuana’s most unique and original artists.
Her work could be considered “raw art,” for going to the extremes and filling up her paintings with images that seem to be raw, without boiling, unfinished: incomplete: not perfect.
Barragán, 26, says that her work, more than anything, reflects feelings from her childhood, and today, she’s freeing through painting.
“The work begins and so does a story,” Barragán writes. “My painting relates with experiences that life gives me and that I’m about to meet. Painting tells a story about the past, present and future. These are stories in which I capture the image I chose to represent what I want to say in each one.”
And what a way to represent what she wants to say. These “monos,” as she calls them, seem to be full of anguish and desperation. They seem to come out from the painting and escape from their pain. These dolls, desperate dolls, seem to be alive, they shock you.
“Many people are afraid of my monos,” Barragan says. “I think they are strong images, very direct, that many people don’t want to buy them to hang them in their living-rooms.”
In addition, Barragán’s work is a constant mix of materials. In the majority of her paintings, we can see pieces of fabrics, tacks, buttons, accessories such as earrings and watches. Barragán says that using all of these materials related to clothing, is due to the influence her grandmother had in her life.
“The things I use, such as buttons, fabrics, are recycled, they’re things already used that have a history,” she says. “I’ve never bought a single button to use in my paintings. Each item has a meaning, very special meaning.”
Mely Barragán was born in Tijuana in 1975. Although she studies graphic design, she considers herself a self-taught painter. She has been part of several collective exhibitions in Mexico and the U.S., and has had a couple of solo exhibits in Tijuana.
Soon, from June 27 to July 31 to be exact, Barragán will have an exhibition with her husband, the painter Daniel Ruanova. Their work as couple will be presented in a Tijuana restaurant “Villa Saverios” in an exhibition titled: “Obra De Dos: Pintura, Despintura y otras cosas....”
This will be a great opportunity to see Barragan’s and Ruanova’s work together. Some people might compare this couple of painters with Diego Rivera and Frida Khalo. But Rivera, in life, always shadowed Khalo’s image, or, more correctly, Khalo hidden behind Rivera’s great figure. In contrast, Barragán and Ruanova don’t shadow each other, nor one is better than the other. Simply, the two are excellent in what they do, and they do it in different ways.
In a recent interview, Ruanova said the following about his and his wife’s art: “Mely and I have very different styles when it comes to painting,” he said. “Our styles complement each other.”
“Daniel’s work is more scientific,” she says. “He works with concepts and develops them. I, in contrast, work with three things: feelings, words and emotions. That’s very important for me, language, what I want to say. That’s why I write phrases on my paintings.”
But Barragan’s work, although she is a woman, is not feminist. At least she doesn’t consider it feminist.
“I’ve never suffered for being a woman,” she said. “Being a woman hasn’t limited me in anything. I have freedom to do anything I want, to paint what I want, to say what I want. I don’t feel limited for being a woman.”
More than a political and social work, Barragán’s is very personal. This is how this young artist from Tijuana describes her excellent and original work:
“My work is a monologue, it’s many things inside many of my things, its written voices,” personal goals, self-energy, and confessions without fears; repetitive people and faces. ‘I speak painting and I paint speaking.’ It’s a language so everybody can identify with everything like myself.”