UNZUETA AND THE MOVIES
I have never known an artist whose art has experienced such an absolute symbiosis with an artistic manifestation different from his own, like Ramón Unzueta’s pictorial art with the seventh art. And knowing him as well as I know him, even then, I couldn’t define what came first for Unzueta: painting or film.
He didn’t go one day of his life without drawing or painting, or without watching a movie, reflecting on it, and extracting from it, on different occasions, the essence that permeated and encouraged his work.
Like in The Purple Rose of Cairo, the well-known Woody Allen movie, Unzueta entered the big screen, embarking on an oneiric voyage from the movie auditorium, imaginary within the imaginary, that he would make real once he returned to the canvas to capture Mae West as a child, a fatal Bette Davis, a grandiose Alla Nazimova, among other great divas of film, all originating from the astonished nature of his hands.
Rami was a film buff from childhood; as an adult he became the best interpreter of film classics, a sort of medium. Never has a painter been known to take with him, to his art, the emotions expressed in an actress’ grimace, a leading man’s look, and a sequence shot that now, fixed in his oils, becomes more eternal and infinite than ever.
Unzueta also recreated remembered scenes, or the continuation of those scenes, with a desire and a sensuality that is unusual in the history of painting. His greatness resided in that he not only watched a movie and discussed it with us, his sister and I, but in that he made us watch it with him, over and over, and from then on, we knew that the inspired image would arise, because it had been lived through his senses, generously open and pure before the poetry of an image resounding in the movement of twenty four seconds.
Film, without a doubt, was not only the inspiration and the motivation in the work of Unzueta. Film was also the soul of his work, a part which his work has and very few possess: the Lorca fairy. Poetry and science, passion and love.
In my memories of the artist is that work permeated by film and its history,
full of cultured quotations of the best cinema, of the Golden Age of Hollywood, but also of the old Japanese cinema, from where sprang his fantastical Japanese ladies and Japonaiserie.
Film gave him much, but Unzueta owes it nothing, because he gave back to film, abundantly, all the beauty and the lyricism that only a genuine artist like him can translate and reinvent through paintbrush and color.
Since Rami left us, flying above us like an angel, like Wim Wenders’ angel in Wings of Desire, I haven’t been able to watch a film like I did before. Among other things, because wherever we were, in any part of the world, every time we saw a sensational movie, we would phone each other to discuss it. And if this was a film that we had seen before, and had watched dozens of times, we would still phone each other to comment on the superb gestures of his adored diva: La Loba (the she-wolf), the immense Bette Davis, or the feline quality of a Greta Garbo and the supreme and mysterious androgyny of Marlene Dietrich. In this same way, he painted Louise Brooks like no one else did;he knew how to snatch the secret from the skin of Louise Brooks, in the same way that he discovered it and appropriated it from the Japanese.
He, who as a true wise man fore saw everything first, always intuited that the secret of film, like the secret in painting, resides in that light that flows from the skin, in that reflection that emanates from the eyes, and in a sort of cloudiness that turns the hair of a Geisha, or of a Nazimova, a smoke that becomes the final result of the alchemy between the paintbrush and the lens of the camera.
Unzuetais, without a doubt, the divine combinationof Pierre-
Auguste Renoir, the father, and Renoir, the son, the painter and the filmmaker; in other words, all light even among shadows, a clarity that emerges suddenly from the half-light.
Because Ramón Unzueta, like Jean Renoir, the filmmaker, painted with the light that emanated from inside himself, and like Pierre-Auguste Renoir, also and uniquely to him, paint revealed its true light.