A Mexican contemporary artist, Ale Osollo is best known for her paintings and murals that continuously push the boundaries with both materials and references. Prone to experimentation, she creates portraits and landscapes of figurative subjects, abstracting them with non-traditional materials and techniques.
Born in Chihuahua, Osollo spent her childhood, adolescence and youth in a society bursting with Mexican customs and traditions. Drawing from this heritage, Osollo imbues her works with rich symbolism, creating narratives, visual stories infused with her philosophy towards life. Playfully winking at both popular culture and Mexican muralism, her art gave her the outlet to capture the magical fantasy that has accompanied her in dreams since she was a child.
We had a chat with the artist to learn more about her captivating practice. In an exclusive Widewalls interview, the artist talks about her magical world, narratives populating her works, the tradition of Mexican muralism, recurring characters and much more.
Widewalls: Your work captures the magical fantasy that has accompanied you in dreams since you were a child. Could you tell us something about this other world?
Ale Osollo: The other world is my imagination. It grows daily. Sometimes I find my imaginary world and reality cross paths. For me, mentally transporting myself is spontaneous and natural - the way children do when they play with imaginary characters and create scenarios to experience and express different emotions.
Imagination is a power that all human beings have and must cultivate. Our dreams are what lead us to what we want. If we surround ourselves in imagination and creativity, more and more windows will open up to us.
We could catalogue our daily life with the “reality" of everyday activities. But, through meditation or imagination, there is also the possibility of our minds opening up new worlds and ideas. Taking us on a journey where we meet people we do not know from other cultures, or other realms, or see things that we can no longer see - because for some, is that not real? We often dismiss a dream that is better or worse than our “reality”, preventing us from feeling or nurturing our souls.
I genuinely believe human beings should foster and embrace their imagination and erase the rules that hold us back - to fix our way of life. In my case, my dreams come alive through my paintings.
Widewalls: Your works are rich with symbolism. What kind of narratives are you looking to convey through them?
AO: The narratives of my artwork are expressions of my soul. The canvas is a way for me to express my feelings and opinions about current issues, or spiritual messages - things that I cannot say out loud for fear of being socially misunderstood, or judged. In my society, as in many other cultures, expressing verbal opinions on controversial topics can often be sensitive and seen as too abrupt or taboo.
For a person as passionate about many subjects as I consider myself, it is difficult to keep quiet, so I resort to the magic outlet of painting to release that burden. This is how I create a dialogue about what I think or what I am.
Discretion and rules imprison me within invisible bars. Painting has given me a way to escape. It has allowed me to communicate much more subtly, comfortably and empathetically with the society that surrounds me. My paintings let me get away with what I want to say. The sensibility of the viewer is less offended when you have the approval of having an artist's personality. The offense is covered with the knowledge that artists have a reputation for being crazy and misunderstood. If we dress or act in a certain way, it is allowed because we are artists.
On the canvas, I can express my thoughts. Sometimes my messages are open. My battle is with the mind and heart of the viewer. The meaning of my work then becomes a different dialogue, their way of interpreting my changes. Each viewer draws their own conclusion based on their memories, traumas, stories or fears.
Widewalls: Mexico has a rich tradition of muralism. How do you think your work communicates with this heritage?
AO: My DNA is imprinted with the culture and heritage of my Mexican roots. It is in my blood.
Some people who live in Mexico, and also in my native Delicias, still hold on to the old traditions. It is inspiring. The cotton-picking peasant women who wear textured fabrics woven by different indigenous peoples; or their use of trees and plants for traditional medicine; and even the flavour of their fables and stories; all this keeps the culture alive.
I believe this is part of my work, to weave and interweave these practices visually. I connect with my ancestral energy either through images, my memories and experiences, by listening to music and reading stories, or watching a good Mexican movie.
There is knowledge that I have at the cellular level of memory. There is no logical explanation, but it is something I feel. I always try to look at the positive side of my culture and send a message of resilience. I see it as a duty, a service to my beloved Mexico. I am proud of my roots. There is an eternal gratitude. I want to express my thanks by sharing the message with others.
The famous Mexican painter Frida Kahlo once said, "I paint flowers so that they do not die." I follow her example by painting positive messages so that they continue to live and resonate with the people around me.
Widewalls: You create both murals and paintings. How do you differentiate between working in the street and in a more controlled setting such as a studio?
AO: It is entirely different creating in my space than it is working outside. My studio workshop provides a comfort zone where I am surrounded and accompanied by spiritual energies. It is a space where the universe is a witness to what I want to express.
In my studio there is vibrant music. I can smell the materials I am working with, which are all overlaid by the aroma of incense. I can see myself covered in the same materials which are on the canvas. There is the ritual of lighting candles, and the presence of holy water. It liberates my soul to the point where I can return to childhood and play and experiment with everything that is in my path. I am deeply grateful that I have this sanctuary.
When I go to other artist's studios, it is also a pleasure as I can see and experience their essence in their space. It's a bit like having access to someone else's wardrobe with permission to use what's inside. You become like a child with new toys.
When working on a street mural, you are dealing with the hustle and bustle of people of all ages. Initially, I am intimidated by the looks I get from passersby, but the more I develop the mural, the more comfortable I become. Many let you know their criticisms before the work is finished. It can also be incredibly distracting when people stop to chat - it can take away my concentration. Weather also becomes a factor. Sometimes it rains. Sometimes the wind blows your materials everywhere. If it is cold, your hands go numb.
Having said that, being in other places or spaces makes me get out of my routine and that is good for me. I get to meet people with different trades and backgrounds, and I see another way of life.
I think the obstacles or adversities encountered makes your work much more meaningful and satisfactory. It's a proud moment to know you conquered a thousand challenges that only you and your soul know. Maybe that is what growth is all about.
Being outside is a different way of working. But at the end of the day, whether I'm painting in my studio, or creating a mural on the streets, I am always left with a sense of accomplishment.
San Miguel de Allende, a colonial-era city in Mexico’s central highlands, is known for its baroque Spanish architecture, thriving arts scene and cultural festivals. In the city’s historic, cobblestoned centre lies the neo-Gothic church Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, whose dramatic pink towers rise above the main plaza, El Jardín. The mural is a continuation of the view towards the parish from La Azotea’s rooftop terrace.
Widewalls: Pelele is one of your recurring characters. Could you tell us more about him? You use non-traditional materials, abstracting your works with several layers. Could you tell us something about your working process?
AO: Many times I am myself, and other times, I am a character accompanied by an imaginary friend.
I find it extraordinarily transparent and thoughtful.
‘Pelele’ appears during my working process and typically stays until the piece is complete with the final layers applied to the canvas. Thinking on it now has made me realise, on very few occasions does he appear before the first brush stroke.
‘Pelele’ comes in many forms. Sometimes fat, sometimes skinny; other times small or tall, like statuettes or stone sculptures.
On one occasion, I wanted to make a sculpture using river stones. The inspiration came from a piece made by a sculptor that resembled my character. I had a burning passion to bring ‘Pelele’ to life in the form of a statue. I travelled to where the sculptor lives, and he showed me how to do it. He also showed me a room full of extraordinary sculptures made by his friend who had just died. That's when I realised that your person will disappear, but the art that you create will live on.
I like sculpture, but I have not yet been able to get into that discipline.
The people around me already know that I love my character and they give me gifts which represent him. When children come to my house they start to play with them, changing their positions, they make them dance or fight. It is a similar process on the canvas. It begins in one place and then changes and changes again. Each piece is formed like the creation of the earth or the human body.
Widewalls: What is next for you?
AO: What's next for me? An unknown future where there is flow… where there is a possibility of painting.
I have always thought that each region has its magic; its own materials or colours in its land; its own shapes and pigments or colour palettes which are different from those my eyes have always seen.
The uncertainty of doing something new, and the opportunity to travel to other areas, to know other worlds, other issues or problems of this planet is what keeps me ALIVE.
New experiences will allow me to continue imagining, growing and dreaming.
What's next? Paint!
Featured image: Ale Osollo in the Studio. All images courtesy the artist and Addicted Art Gallery.
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