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Discovering the Paintings of a Predecessor

Published Feb 2, 2011 - (Updated Aug 30, 2013)


Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Winter/Spring 2011 issue.

In 1958 Puerto Vallarta really was a small fishing village, the church half-built, its small plaza noted for its dense foliage and the taxi driver in front who carried a dog in the trunk as a tourist attraction. Ramón Barragán observed this scene every day while working in an office across the square. One day, taking advantage of his love of painting, he immortalized the scene, never suspecting that he later would be named the precursor of the important movement of painters that exists in our city today.

In 2005 a group of artists and art promoters published the book 55 Años de Historia de la Plástica Vallartense, which chronicles the development of the pictorial movement in Puerto Vallarta over the decades. Among those involved were recognized local artists Javier Niño and Rubén Cham, who discovered the work of Barragán from the early ’50s while studying the careers of various painters. “I always refer to him as the first painter of Puerto Vallarta,” said Cham, who considers Barragán’s work naive art and admires his ability to capture idyllic scenes.

Self-taught Art for the Love of Puerto Vallarta

Born in Puerto Vallarta on May 25, 1929, Ramón Barragán Villaseñor only attended elementary school, adopting painting as a profession at age 16. “I was the first one who began to paint here, and I did it for the love of Vallarta,” says the self-taught painter. Although Barragán began when there were no other painters living in the city, tourists occasionally came to be inspired by the beautiful landscapes of days gone by, and he took the opportunity to observe their work and chat with some of them.

A turning point in Barragán’s career was his participation in the first recorded exhibition of paintings in Puerto Vallarta, which was held in 1952 at the Paradise Hotel, the building still standing just a few blocks from the Malecon. Barragán exhibited four paintings there, two of which were purchased by painters dedicated to reselling the work of other artists. “At that time, I didn’t even know how to mount an exhibition. In fact, I sold a painting that I had set aside as a result of not understanding the sales system,” he recalls with humor.

A Lifetime of Achievement

Barragán has been a prolific painter, some of his paintings acquired by major figures such as former President of Mexico Luis Echeverría Álvarez. In 1963 he was instrumental in building sets for the filming of The Night of the Iguana. After this adventure, which earned him the friendship of John Huston, he spent two years in San Pancho, where he decorated hotels and apartments, another activity he loves. In 1965 he collaborated on the work being undertaken on the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe and was a participant in the creation of the iconic crown that collapsed in the earthquake of 1995.

The driving force behind Barragán’s work has always been love, never the money; however, he does not deny his regret about not knowing the value of his work early in his career, which led to the loss of several of his paintings. But he goes on painting pictures from his imagination. “I don’t care how much it will sell for or when I will sell it. I paint for me, decorate a house for me.” His current work and the pieces shown in this article can be found at The Genius of Paco at Venustiano Carranza 512, El Centro.

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