Art And Artists Of Costa Rica’s Pura Vida

Painting by Isidro Con Wong
Painting by Isidro Con Wong (Photo Credit: www.facebook.com/IsidroConWongOficial)

Victor Chavarria Venegas is typical of Pura Vida artists.  He says, “My art is from my heart, and my heart is from Costa Rica.”

His colorful and realistic acrylic and oil paintings depict animals, birds, frogs and reptiles in their habitats. Venegas’s roadside studio and gallery outside of Jaco is a work of art in itself, the exterior walls a vivid mural.  Though the target audience is tourists, his work is also sold to collectors throughout the world.

Costa Rica’s Pura Vida attitude and the people’s appreciation of nature are a delight for visitors, as well as an inspiration for artists.

The development of Costa Rica’s visual art follows the course of the nation’s history.  As a Spanish colony, Costa Rican artists conformed to the standards of Europe, religious subjects and portraits of the wealthy and powerful were the main subjects.  Twentieth century movements, neoclassical, impressionism and abstract expressionism were at the forefront, but folk art and indigenous art were always in the background, ignored by the art trendsetters.  It was only in recent decades that the nation’s art has discovered its own style that reflects the surroundings and culture.

Among the folk art traditions that influenced contemporary art is the painted oxcarts, carretas, from the central highlands.  Used to transport coffee in the 19th century they became moveable canvases, and the pride of the plantation.  The bright organic patterns were based on nature and continue to be an inspiration to contemporary artists.

Nature has been the subject on the stamps, coins and paper money of Costa Rica since the 1950s and animal and plant life became national symbols.

Painting by Francisco Amighetti
Painting by Francisco Amighetti (Photo Credit: www.franciscoamighetti.com)

Francisco Amighetti, an early 20th century artist was important for rejecting European traditions and striving towards a Costa Rican form of surrealism.  This philosophy is echoed in today’s art.

An art colony has developed at Escazu and Santa Ana in the central valley.  In the 1920s, Teodorica Quiros Alvarado an architect by trade, began the landscape movement, depicting daily life in the midst of jungles and volcanoes.

Alvarado and his fellow painters called themselves the Group of New Sensibility.  Influenced by Impressionism, New Sensibility adopted to their environment creating a new style.  Among the group, Manuel de la Cruz Gonzalez was called the Costa Rican Picasso.  The simplified forms of his later work showed Costa Ricans they could produce their own version of European styles.

Painting by Christina Fournier
Painting by Christina Fournier (Photo Credit: www.cristinafournier.com/)

Today the Santa Ana area still attracts artists.  The Center for Creative Arts opened in 1991 as a focal point.  Among the up and coming painters are Sanda Ana and Isidro Con Wong, a magic realist, whose landscapes have toured the world; Katya de Luisa’s photo collages used in Azheimers’ photo art therapy; and Christina Fournier whose watercolors have won international acclaim. They share the goal of creating art that is Costa Rican in spirit.

Painting by Leonel González
Painting by Leonel González (Photo Credit: www.facebook.com/pages/Leonel-González)

Elsewhere in the country similar movements are emerging.  Leonel González in Limon paints black people against unmistakably Caribbean backgrounds.  National and regional trends have emerged, and a Tican style is simultaneously evolving in different areas.

In most tourist centers you will find galleries that focus on colorful nature scenes.  While some critics may dismiss these paintings as tourist productions, this art is evolving and showing great diversity of themes and elements.  It is becoming a style that exemplifies the creative impulses of Ticans; an art that expresses love of the land and a connection to nature.

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Andrew Kolasinski

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Andrew Kolasinski has published three travel guide books: Complete Vancouver Island Tourist Guide; Guide to Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of Peru; and The Best of Peru. He also publishes Island Angler (Guide to Fishing on Vancouver Island, Canada). When not fishing for salmon and trout, he travels the world and writes for websites, newspapers, and magazines.

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