Behind the art and the artists …
By Alessandra Rincon
Most people consider visiting Costa Rica because of its widely recognized natural beauty, legendary surf spots, and opportunities for ecotourism. However, it is less well known that Costa Rica is filled to the brim with so much artistic and creative talent. To honestly know Costa Rica is to experience all aspects of its culture, including its diverse art scene. From painters, photographers and designers to street artists and illustrators, Costa Rica’s art world is bursting with exquisite creations. Costa Rica may be under the radar compared to other countries with a more visible art presence, but there is plenty of exceptional creativity in this beautiful country. To introduce you to the scene, we’ve put together a list of artists you need to know.
Gussa | @gussa_
Costa Rican street artist and architect known simply as Gussa is a rebel and has been brightening up Costa Rica one massive, colorful, smiley face at a time. The Cabuya-based artist first felt inspired to create because of his grandmother. When the young builder was a baby, he would always draw on the floor of her office on the back of accounting sheets and cardboard, which she, of course, kept, dated, and made a note of his mood that day, a habit that he has continued to this day. Many years later, Gussa studied architecture and has gone on to paint worldwide, including in Spain, the United States, and Mexico, experimenting with media such as spray paint, latex paint and cardboard. “I have an obsession with happy faces; of course, this started long before what they are today,” shared the rebellious artist. “I find a deeper meaning in them as humanity.”
On Legacy: The reality is that I don’t expect anything from anyone. I’ve always created it because it comes from within my being…I have two works that are my favorites from my street art era, which are Bucutum [as seen on the previous page] and Time Machine. They’re abandoned buildings that I painted, turning them into large-scale sculptures. They were my last works before moving on to a more sculptural or the most volumetric transition. La Esquina Verde and Casa Chinga, my current project in Cabuya, are my favorite works from my current era.
On Supporting Local Artists: I believe more in the peculiarity or authenticity of the crafts or the artisans than in supporting out of obligation. The world has evolved very strangely, it is clear that there is a not-very-human agenda behind much of what happens and the planet never had the obligation to consent to certain parties. It is a wild universe, and it always will be, but humanity has fallen asleep believing that it has to be comfortable and equal for everyone, and in reality, that is abnormal. Many of the greatest figures on this planet have emerged from adverse and unfair situations, and it is this very environment that prepares them for the real world.
On How We Can Help CR Be The Best It Can Be: We must protect more terrestrial and marine areas until the conservation area is much greater than the habitable or exploitable zones. I also believe that we must help educate children that the government has gotten out of hand. I don’t believe much in patriotism, but I do consider that the political zone we call Costa Rica is unique in the world. Its location in America has been vital for hundreds of years, if not thousands. We have been blessed with an outcome of events that are pretty peculiar on the planet, such as the abolition of the army and the creation of free and compulsory education.
On Inspiration: I am inspired by the context where I find myself. Like many artists, we try to bring out the best in ourselves regardless of where we are. After years and a lot of exploration, you understand that there is something inside of you that does not give up and will try as many times as necessary. What is the use of being a great rebel if you take it to the grave? If you never manifested it, it is useless.
Alex Lanau | @alex_lanau_art
Self-taught artist and self-described “professional doodler” Alex Lanau makes the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica a more colorful place with his bold and animated surf art. The Pavones-based artist started creating art when he was a child and never stopped: “Some people pick up a baseball or a guitar, I picked up a pencil.” This passion for creation turned into a flourishing career painting large-scale murals inspired by the energy of nature, surf culture, music and everyday interactions. These murals now decorate the walls of public and private buildings and surf-charter boats worldwide. Alex’s art has been exhibited in major cities coast to coast, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, San Antonio, Texas; Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina; and Belmar, New Jersey. In addition, his work has been showcased in popular magazines, including Sports Illustrated, Maxim, Surfer and Surfing.
On The Most Underrated Thing About cr: The Indigenous people and all the wisdom they hold about the land.
On Legacy: I hope that my art brings joy and happiness into people’s lives and inspires them to create art themselves. Everything I create brings me an enormous sense of accomplishment. Like, wow, I can’t believe I just painted that! Anything from a small sketch to a large mural. I am truly blessed.
On Supporting Local Artists: Supporting the local creatives is what keeps the spark alive in communities. Any town in any country has its own unique flavor that thrives exponentially when people buy and shop local.
Belén Rodríguez | @_lunadefuego_
Visual storyteller and art director Belén Rodríguez grew up surrounded by cameras and lenses. Her photographer father instilled in her a passion for the art form, and she soon began learning and honing her craft in her hometown of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Since 2019, the Tamarindo-based photographer has skillfully captured the beauty of Costa Rica and its residents. “Nature is very inspiring. The sunsets here are from another galaxy, and personal shootings I do have their own magic. Most of the time, people are dealing with some healing process and like to do a photo shoot for themselves. I like to say that it’s for their souls.”
On The Most Underrated Thing About cr: When you come to stay just 15 days, that’s ok, and people try to slow down because they come for a short time to disconnect from their routines. But when you stay here longer and you start noticing “pura vida” in the way the local people do EVERYTHING, people start to get a little crazy or angry, but to me, the pura vida life is the best way to remember that nothing is really more important than being healthy and being with the ones you love.
On How People Can Make CR The Best It Can Be: I think people could respect the natives more. A lot of people from other countries come here to stay for maybe a few months, a year or more, and they just come thinking that with money, they can get whatever they want, and I know the world works like that, but they don’t even pay attention to how it negatively affects the people whose home this is. For example, rents are getting higher in Pacific towns because many nomads come to live here from North America, Europe, etc., paying whatever it takes to have a home in the town. Suddenly, the locals can’t afford those rents. They don’t get another way to live. That is not okay at all, and it’s happening all over.
On Supporting Local Artists: Here in Tamarindo, many artists from different areas support each other. There is so much to learn for everyone, and we always collaborate with each other when we need it. Also, the Tamarindo community, in general, always supports local artists and artisans because they would rather work with the talent of someone they know than buy stuff from big brands.
Robb Havassy | @robbhavassyart
It’s never too late to find your true calling, according to painter and author Robb Havassy. Having always been a creative child growing up in Southern California, from 1982 to 2002, Robb became a model for fashion houses like Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Dior. For most of this time, his only artistic expression was through photographing his travels and painting his surfboards. However, this would all change in 1996 after receiving a beginner’s art kit as a 26th birthday present. “Painting after painting flowed out,” he says. “People around me in the fashion industry took note, and opportunities began to present themselves to share my own art.” The notoriety Robb received for his bold surf- and ocean-inspired art has since snowballed into projects with surf brands like OP, REEF, Sector 9, and nonprofits like Surfrider Foundation. In 2008, he released his first book, Surf Story Vol. 1, featuring art and stories from more than 200 creatives in the surfing community, followed by an equally successful and extensive second volume. In 2013, Robb and his family left Newport Beach and moved to Costa Rica to live a simpler, more connected, slower-paced life surrounded by beauty, warmth and great surf. Robb opened an art gallery outside of Tamarindo. In 2020, Robb published another book dedicated to his eldest daughter, Marin’s Wave, a fairy tale version of his family and daughter’s life growing up in Costa Rica.
On Supporting Local Artists: Can you imagine a world without art? Think hard for a minute. It’s a dismal view. Remember that almost every great artist was/is financially struggling. Even the successful ones, for the most part, hustle and pray to make a living. Rare is an artist making a comfortable living on art alone. If they are, you can bet there is money of support from some other aspect of their life. In days past, there were more patrons for art, and of course, the cost of living was much less than today. Making a living as an artist is full of commitment, passion and absolutely no guarantees. So support your local art or any living artist that you love. Chances are they could use it, and it will help them pay a few bills and give them money to make more art. Maybe something that could inspire the world. And then imagine again a world without art.
On Legacy: My art is a collection of moments, real, dreamed and imagined, that inspire me. My subject matter and range of style mirror my own diversity of passions and life experiences. My art is fluid and often colorful. Much of it was initially derived from my photography, which has always been a strong creative outlet for me since my early years growing up in southern California in the ‘70s and ‘80s. My goal is to inspire people. It’s to create work that captivates and draws them in like a good song. I want them to want to crawl into my work or for it to awaken a dream or memory long since gone. I want them to carry it with them after they’ve seen it.
Andrés Murillo Morales | @murillo__andres
Visual artist Andrés Murillo Morales is absurd, but in, like, the best way. In 2012, the San José local started his art career studying Plastic Arts at the University of Costa Rica. However, it wasn’t until 2016, shortly before dropping out, that he began to experiment with painting and made a living playing percussion in music orchestras. Since 2020, the San Antonio de Desamparados-based artist has dedicated himself to his art, pushing the boundaries of visual art and artistic expression with a unique sense of humor that aims to examine human behavior, pop culture, the absurdity of life and the Internet. “My sources of inspiration vary a lot depending on what I find myself producing,” says the artist. “In general, I like humor that generates thought, and in addition to laughter, reflection on other important topics.”
On Legacy: I hope people come away with a good experience and see the humor in my painting. I don’t consider myself a comedian, but I once read that “nothing unites two people like having laughed together.” I’m proud to have created accessible works that people enjoy and remember in some way, with which they have felt identified.
On The Most Underrated Thing About CR: For me, the culture sector is one of the most underrated and underestimated things in the country. The government’s support for this is almost nil and is also the first to be affected by budget cuts.
As for the visual arts, spaces and budgets for exhibitions are limited, and artists’ work is rarely recognized monetarily as it should be. To all this, add the mismanagement and bureaucracy that exists within the same cultural institutions.
Adriana Jaguar | @adrianajaguar
Costa Rica’s very own Adriana Sanahuja, aka Adriana Jaguar, is a multidisciplinary artist with vision. Having begun her creative journey studying at the Castella Art Conservatory, she has since dedicated herself to painting and illustrating beautiful, otherworldly artworks and creating artistic spaces for conscious events. The Puerto Viejo de Limon-based artist created the character of Adriana Jaguar to help put aside her ego and to push past her limits by acting from the perspective of a half-feline heroine who works every day to root the feminine divinity to this Earth. The creative is heavily inspired by “the feminine scents of the Earth” and “the magic and interconnectivity in everything in life” and channels that energy into what she describes as “portals to our divinity to the magical creatures that we are.”
On Legacy: I hope my creations promote and support the spiritual process. I hope the viewer receives inspiration and a vibration of unconditional love.
On Supporting Local Artists: It is necessary to support our community and small businesses that bring new visions of a fruitful and harmonious future for all.
On How To Help CR Be The Best It Can Be: Creating and supporting recycling systems, sustainability, waste management and ecological education.
Ignacio “Nacho” Holst | @guana.costarica
Ignacio “Nacho” Holst is living the dream. Growing up in Buenos Aires, his family encouraged him to pursue the arts, and he spent his days surfing and learning how to paint and create his own designs. “I always felt very attracted to T-shirt design,” shared the artist. “When I was about 10 years old, I painted my T-shirts with skateboarding designs because I loved the clothing of the sport and the styles of those designs from the late ‘80s. Then, as a teenager, I played drums in rock groups and designed our T-shirts.” Then, after studying to be a film director at the Faculty of Architecture, Design, and Urbanism in Argentina, he found himself on the beaches of Tamarindo for a surf trip, which eventually led to him putting down roots and calling Playa Langosta his home. Twenty years later, Nacho is the founder and owner of his own clothing brand, Guana, which aims to inject the spirit of pura vida and their love of Costa Rica into all of its designs.
On Legacy: When I arrived in Tamarindo, I fell in love with the lifestyle, I had the fantasy of living here because this seemed like paradise to me, but I thought it was impossible to achieve it. Then I looked for T-shirts from a place with that style and couldn’t find what I imagined. I felt the need to create this. I thought that many other surfers or beach lovers would be happy to find products like the ones I was imagining. That is how I decided to stay and live in this place I love so much and dedicated myself professionally to designing T-shirts and other products for the first time. Our illustrations are the result of all this. I try to create what I would have liked to have existed when I arrived in Tamarindo, addressing topics such as surfing and life on the beach with a positive spirit and a lot of love for this country. That’s the best way I can describe what we do.
Pía Chavarría | @piachavarria
Visual artist Pía Chavarría lives and breathes art. Since she was a child, she would spend hours every day drawing and getting lost in her creations, fully enveloped in the creative spirit. “It’s something that has always been with me, behind my back,” explains the Alajuela local, “a bit like a ghost or a shadow cast upon me, carrying a torch all the way to the present.” She spent years growing and honing her skills with the intention of performing her craft as consciously as she could with her own body. After earning her degree in Plastic Design with an emphasis on Pictorial Design from the University of Costa Rica, she went on to do solo and group exhibitions in physical and online spaces like La Salita in NYC; Media Home in Buenos Aires; Nos Vemos in Costa Rica; the Costa Rican Art Museum; and the Second Festival of Performance Arts in Honduras. She was a 2021 Hopper Prize finalist.
On Legacy: I hope people take whatever they want from my work. To be given attention and any kind of thought process is enough.
On Supporting Local Communities: I think support can be translated into a different range of actions. It could be, of course, of a mercantilist nature, it can also be translated into admiration, gratitude, attention, collaboration and exchange. What’s local and close to you doesn’t always make you feel a connection; sometimes, the answer lies outside.
On inspiration: The people I meet, and what they make me feel. The unknown. There is a space, like a void in time, when you paint. Only there can I produce these imaginary scenarios, like setting a play.
Juan Diego “J.D.” Evangelista | @cheboards
Surfing is like breathing for Juan Diego “J.D.” Evangelista. Having first hit the waves at the age of 7 and shaping his first board at 11 in Mar del Plata, Argentina, it wasn’t long before he was completely hooked. At the age of 13, he started creating his own designs, and at 16, he began to work in different surf factories, and since then, he has caught countless waves and shaped more than 15,000 boards worldwide. “I like the fact that there are different steps in the process of building a surfboard,” he shared. “Shaping, glassing, finishing, etc. … I like to flow while I’m working.” In 2012, he and his wife Mareike decided to move to Tamarindo, Costa Rica, and opened their factory. Since then, Evangelista’s main priority has been improving the surfboard market by making it more sustainable by creating balsa wood boards cultivated in Costa Rica and using organic resin and fibers.
On Supporting Local Artists: It’s important to keep creating a natural flow environment, happiness from the soul and good understanding between cultures.
On Legacy: I hope people think my work is a good quality product that can make them have lots of good happy moments and have confidence in their surfing.
The Most Underrated Thing About CR: Carne fiesta!
Fabian Monge | @fabian_monge_au
Plastic artist and painter Fabian Monge is an explorer. Hailing from the mountains of Cartago, he has been creating, experimenting and investigating the cognitive phenomenon that occurs between images and visual perception. Now, the San Jose resident continues to document and study the impact of shape, color and the composition of images on the human imagination through a lens of visual perception and cognitive study. In 2013, he won the Marco Aurelio Aguilar Painting Biennial Award from the Municipal Museum of Cartago. He has since featured work in collections in Costa Rica, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Sweden, Belgium, Chile, Brazil and the United States. His mind-bending paintings, drawings and exhibitions aim to expand the human imagination and ignite dialogue about the subconscious and our perceptions of reality.
On Legacy: In my own way, my set of artistic investigations venture into the human imagination that we collectively share. Knowing that my creations have served me as a means to meet admirable people and to be part of important artistic movements such as deCERCA is amazing. I hope people learn to reveal reality and find the astonishment that is hidden behind the veils of everyday life with which we constantly blind ourselves.
On Supporting Local Communities: First, I would think that it is out of self-interest since those artists and creatives that are now within reach will be one of the most requested future ones, so that exchange currently becomes, in addition to a financial investment, it is also an investment of social capital, an enhancer of the general context of artistic production, a context that we are building and that we want to be so solid and stable as to sustain what each one expects it to be.
On Making CR Be The Best It Can Be: Costa Rica will be as good, creative, tolerant and productive as the sum of each and every one of its individuals. If the people are the best they can be, that is the best Costa Rica we can have.
Gerardo Ramirez Castro
Gerardo Ramirez Castro is an artist through and through. Growing up in San Jose, Costa Rica, the painter first fell in love with creating colorful and mesmerizing work when he was just a child. To him, “It’s still like a spell.” Although his early work focused on landscapes, portrait studies, and object-focused work, the art of Gerardo Ramírez is essentially focused on the non-figurative. His images move between abstract-geometric trends, as well as more stylized and organic proposals using color as a central axis. “In my work, I like to create with unexpected shapes and colors and with a lot of independence and freedom,” shared the creative. “I’m inspired by the abundance of possibilities that nature offers, and that can be appreciated in my work.”
On Supporting Local Communities: The artistic community always needs support. Local governments should be much more involved in creating spaces for creativity. Everything would translate into creating a better community.
On Legacy: It fills me with pride to be able to dedicate my life to creativity. I hope that people can enjoy the meaning of my work and my sincerity. I hope that people will meet and talk will talk about my art and try to see my vision.
On How We Can Help CR Be The Best It Can Be: A more supportive attitude, working honestly, and sharing knowledge is the best way to move towards a better life.
On The Most Underrated Thing About CR: Despite the current educational system. There is great backwardness in artistic education.
Sandra Mott | @ladyseawench
Painter Sandra Mott combines the nautical with the fantastical in her intricate, art-deco-inspired illustrations. The California native started painting and crafting when they were young and quickly took an interest in the sea, especially stories of mermaids and pirates. After having lived in Costa Rica for the last fifteen years, Sandra uses the mysteries of nature and folklore to bring her bold, vivid creations to life. “I’m always inspired by legends and folklore,” she explained. “I mostly love to use stories of the sea, but I also get a lot of influence from the mysteries of the forests and jungle.”
On Legacy: I’m proud of a lot of my creations, but I feel like I still have more to accomplish. It’s always nice when people get a feeling of joy or wonder from my art. I like the pieces to entertain and tell a story, or to allow the viewer’s imagination to tell the story.
On How People Can Make C.R. The Best It Can Be: I think that people being more conscious of the impact that they have on nature can really help.
Diego Fournier | @diegofourniersoto
Art is in Diego Fournier’s blood. Growing up in a family of artists and musicians, the San Jose local started studying art studies at the Castella Conservatory when he was 7 years old. After graduating as a painter at seventeen, Diego went on to study graphic design at the University of Costa Rica. In 2012, he started painting murals in San Jose, Costa Rica. Since then, he has painted murals in Mexico, Central America, and Spain and works full-time as an illustrator, graphic designer, and muralist. Diego’s work oozes a sense of exploration, fun, and freedom with bold colors and imagery inspired by his observations and “random images that life gives” him. The scope and diversity of his internationally acclaimed work encompass many interdisciplinary spheres of illustration, including animation, video games, paintings, murals, posters, self-published children’s stories, and artists’ books. “I think I’m most proud of my last mural,” shared the artist. “It feels like a positive outcome of many processes and stages throughout my life. Pintanga Dream mixes realism, surrealism, and botanic drawing without losing the naif essence that is so characteristic of my work. They look great combined.” With his art, specifically with his miniseries Danta, he hopes to spark the imagination and educate children about the wonders of nature and the importance of environmental conservation.
On Legacy: I hope my work generates a reaction from happiness to any type of questioning. I never think about the reaction I want to generate, but I hope that if somebody sees my work, it generates something.
On Supporting Local Communities: Local artists and creatives give you a point of view of their reality and let you understand the world better. It is important to have more than one point of view to create politics and solutions for groups of people that coexist in a place and time.
On Making CR The Best It Can Be: This is a big question. As an artist, I think that cultural support policies that offer residencies, scholarships, and provide working platforms for artists would help this sector grow and develop greatly.