5 questions for Costa Rican artist Adrián Gómez

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An interview by Elizabeth Lang for Tico Times.

Art that helps build a collective imagination depicting the vibrancy and liveliness of Costa Rica’s Caribbean region: that’s what characterizes the work of Adrián Gómez, more than thirty years in the making.

“The vocation, interest or inclination for art has always been present in my life ever since I can remember. That’s why I say that I was born an artist,” Gómez, 56, told The Tico Times.

When Gómez was just 12 years old, his mother enrolled him in the National Artisans Association (ANDE), where he learned woodcarving. Gómez went on to study at the Juan Ramón Bonilla School, founded by artists from Cartago including Hernán Hidalgo, Fernando Carballo, Luis Fernando Quirós and Jorge Valverde. Carballo would become an important source of support later on when Gómez set out to create art that would celebrate Afro-Costa Rican communities in Limón.

After graduating from high school, Gómez studied construction engineering at the Costa Rican Institute of Technology (TEC), but dropped out due to family issues. He began working in advertising agencies, which allowed him to study composition and colors that he transferred unconsciously to his self-taught art.

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As his passion for art deepened, he found himself remembering childhood trips with his mother to visit his father, who was working in Limón. He began to incorporate his love for the Caribbean province into his art, especially focusing on black childhood; today, his paintings of faceless children joyfully playing or riding swings hung from clouds are instantly recognizable around Costa Rica. His work has been exhibited in the United States, Mexico and Guatemala as well.

On a sunny, warm afternoon at Entre Nous Café in Barrio Escalante, east of San José, Gómez sat down and spoke with The Tico Times about his life and work. Excerpts follow.

How did you come to depict Afro-descendants in Costa Rica’s Caribbean?

My father used to work in heavy mechanics, repairing trolleys, backhoes and all that sort of machinery. He worked for various companies, but a large percentage were in Costa Rica’s Caribbean region. My mother had to visit him to sustain their affection and love, and to get the money for our sustenance. We would go with my mother; there are nine of us. Obviously the nine of us wouldn’t go at the same time.

It had a great impact on me, all those images of the black Afro-descendant, but what surprised me the most were the colors they’d use in their heritage, in their traditions, in their way of dressing.

Of course, with the passage of time my reading of the Caribbean and its people has been enriched, and it’s very different from what [I thought] about the Caribbean when I began.