Landscape painting has played an important part in the development of Costa Rican art. As in other countries in Latin America, landscapes came to be symbols of national identity. In Costa Rica, landscape painting thrived and became established in the first half of the twentieth century, with adobe houses saved from oblivion as nostalgic metaphors of a traditional society yielding to modernization.
For decades, a mainly watercolor landscape school, favored by a large number of painters and fostered by the Escuela de Bellas Artes, dominated Costa Rican art. In the past 20 years, a new generation of artists has again turned its attention to landscapes, although from a different perspective.These new painters are no longer keen to capture the topography or the luminous beauty of a terrain. They look at the landscape from a conceptual and symbolic angle, in which natural shapes express concerns, awareness, ideas and personal feelings rooted in approaches shaped by science, social issues, or an individual poetic style.
The growing importance and pervasiveness of the basic notions of ecological science are inducing a different conception of relations with nature and natural phenomena. For contemporary landscape painters, their work is intertwined with their perception of the troubled relationship between man and the environment. In this group of young painters, Jorge Rojas, Marité Vidales, and Alejandro Villalobos are producing outstanding work.
Rojas creates a harmonious and balanced world, exploring the deep ties and all-encompassing unity of the elements. In his paintings, trees and fish, rain and sunlight, night and day commingle, their simultaneity conveying the interaction and interdependence of all living things. The result is an imaginary visual universe, a kind of chromatic cosmos in which balance and symmetry predominate, symbolizing order in life. The colors in this landscape are not descriptive; the painter’s intention is not to narrate a scene or describe a panorama.The shapes emerge from a synthesis that seeks to express the primeval quintessence of the world around us. Discourse, color, line, texture, composition, and spatial relationships combine to convey the harmonious ideal of a beautifully woven cosmos.
In Rojas's work, robust ancestral trees, brimming with life, symbolize, as they did in ancient cultures, the power and energy of the cycles, the impetus of living things. The same is true of the animals in his paintings: emblematic effigies, cast in paint, of natural creatures and processes.
Jorge Rojas constructs a painted surface and impresses on it his particular fascination with symmetry, geometric shapes, color, and texture, confident in the evocative, poetic power of the painting. Beneath the ideal order he forges, you sense a yearning for harmony between man and the world around him.
Marité Vidales's early landscape paintings depict nature as an intense fantasy-filled scene bursting with energy and flooding the canvas with a wild chromatic strength reminiscent of Fauvism.Her current landscapes are filled with the same vibrant colors and bright, luminous paints, but accompanied now by a dream-like mysteriousness that lends a magic air to the images she paints. Some of these canvases have areas or geometric spaces separating figures from the rest of the landscape, generating at times a visual tension matching that between the colossal, earthly power of the volcano — symbolizing the energy of mother nature — and the areas depicting leaves of banana trees grown by men.
Vidales declares that the areas and the contrast between macro and micro elements represented by the volcano-mountain and the banana leaf are, from her perspective, possibilities created by the aesthetics of forms, memories of Costa Rica's landscapes, and the harmony of visual composition. Certainly, in her work color acquires a structural dimension that makes no attempt to describe objects and her figures form friezes full of movement and cadences striving to capture harmony for the composition as a whole. Yet others might see in that contrast between the telluric force of nature and human efforts to master the environment reflections on the problems posed by that relationship.
The separation of the figures into zones and the structural-hierarchical contrasts built into the spatial design prompts a kind of conflict between the metaphoric function of segmented space and the seductive wealth of color casting a magic, mysterious spell. This tension, seductiveness, and conceptual dualism in Vidales’s paintings are hallmarks of truly romantic landscapes. In her paintings the shapes of the countryside also convey the artist’s insights into the tensions between nature and culture and express her position or personal appreciation of a core component of contemporary life.
The landscape paintings of Alejandro Villalobos bathe in the matchless, myriad greens of the tropical forests.They dazzle with sensations of light forming a kind of luminous hymn to nature.The paths and glens, waterfalls and pools, leafy canopies of a thousand shades of green and gold harbor a poetic vision that hints at a personal, emotional relationship, in which the intensity of living things is a metaphor for hidden moods, emotions, and states of mind. The colors and Villalobos’s use of both spots and brushstrokes in these landscapes guide us away from description and, combined with synthetic abstraction from objects, unravel the inner meaning of his landscapes.
Underlying the synthesis of color and light, we glimpse a remarkable sensitivity, a suggestion of how human beings and their environment could commingle, that acts like balm to the soul. The painter's feeling for seasons, the cycles of constant rebirth, the contrast between dryness and humidity, seems to mirror an understanding of similar cycles in the lives of men.
Observe the landscapes painted by Villalobos and you will experience astonishment, quietude, contemplation, and peace. Some of them, especially those depicting peaks capped by clouds, come close to capturing the drama inherent in human efforts to express the sublime.
Like those of Vidales and Rojas, the landscapes of Alejandro Villalobos are intellectual constructs, designed to convey thoughts and emotions stirred by the dialogue between nature and humankind. Rojas evokes a kind of utopia imbued with order and balance, while Vidales celebrates the powerfulness of the earth and explores the aesthetic possibilities of translating nature into paint. Villalobos creates a lyrical sphere, which, by extolling experience of nature, revives the spiritual potential in individual human beings and puts them in touch with the vibrant essence of life.
Taken together, these landscapes illustrate the multiplicity of ways in which different artistic sensitivities use color, space, texture, and form to commune with nature and convey to us the thoughts and feelings inspired by their personal experience of Mother Earth.