Saturday, January 31, 2009

Money Talks..It Usually Says Goodbye

About 20 years ago, Costa Rica issued a series of banknotes in four denominations included the 5 Colone note pictured above. The reverse of the note features a painting depicting the coffee trade and export of Costa Rica around 1900. Shortly after they issued the notes, the currency was revalued, and the notes became obsolete. Today, 5 Colones is worth about one penny. However, the 5 colone note became popular with collectors and the tourist trade as souvenirs. San Jose tourist shops easily sell these notes for 3-5 dollars U.S.

Back in the mid 1800's Costa Rica built the National Theater, in attempts to charm some of the European operatic talent to the country. They built a masterpiece that rivals La Scala. The National Theater is truly a wonder and a "must see" for visitors to San Jose. On the ceiling, in the center of the Theater, is a very large painting. I would guess about 10 feet by 30 feet. It is the coffee trade painting featured on the 5 colone note painted in 1897 by J. Villa.

About three years ago, when I first moved to Costa Rica, and began painting, one of the workers here on the farm brought me a 5 colone note and told me I should paint it because it was "muy bonita". Well, yes, it was pretty, but..... After a few days, I got to thinking it might be interesting to paint and good practice, in any case. It took a little over a week, but It resulted in my rendition above, painted in acrylics on a 20x50 panel board. It is now hanging in our office, and gets comments from everyone who sees it.

One note of interesting little trivia. J. Villa never visited Costa Rica. He created the painting in his native Spain and had very little idea of life in Latin America. He made an error in his depiction which most people wouldn't notice, but, to Costa Ricans, and Latin Americans in general, it is a glaring mistake. The gentleman in the foreground is holding a large bunch of bananas by the stalk at the bottom. This would mean that bananas grow pointing down. They don't...they grow pointing up. Small thing, but, since Costa Rica was built on coffee and bananas, it becomes a major BOBO.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Arenal and Poas

Costa Rica is a land OF volcanoes because it was made FROM volcanoes. Within 50 miles of my doorstep are six volcanoes...four of them active. Arenal, Poas, Irazu, Turrialba, Barva, and Cache Negro. I am working on a series of volcano paintings, but I thought I'd show you what wonderful subject material I have to work with. I have included two shots with my picture on them, not to show off my mug, but to show you how brave I am.

The top two are Poas. Poas is now a gurgling, belching composite volcano, having nine distinct craters. It's being a good boy now, but back around 11 million years ago, Poas and its buddy, Barva, started coughing up enough stuff to form the floor of the entire central valley. And it has remained active ever since, with an occasional flare up. On January 25, 1910, it spewed almost a million tons of ash into the atmosphere...nearly as much dust as piles up behind my refrigerator each week. In 1989, they closed the whole park for the year. And nowadays, it's rather serene. It is actually in a cloud forest region and the clouds do come and go very unpredictably. The last time I was there, nothing was being in a cloud and looking into another cloud. But you could hear it. Sounds like a bunch of bulldozers working at a distance. There's some great hiking trails and overlooks, but you're pretty high up, so it pays to be in shape.

Arenal is the attention getter. Around 1200-1500 AD, Arenal was quite active. Then it abruptly quit smoking and folks classified it as inactive. Then, just as abruptly, it erupted in 1968 in a huge pyroclastic explosion, killing 78 people in a very sparsely populated region. There were no seismic instruments of warning then, so no one knew it was coming. But the old-timers tell tales...livestock and pets acting rocks around the mountain...the Tabacon river running warm...even an evacuation of insects and wildlife from the mountain. It has remained active ever since and spawned a tourist Mecca and hot springs spa business. It is beautifully awesome at night. Only once have I been there when it was quiet and not showy. For 2 days, not a glimmer. Then about 10 A.M. the morning I was leaving, there was a terrific sound like a big jet fixing to take off, and POOP, a big billow of smoke came out and rose about 2 miles into the sky. Then it went back to sleep.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Egret on the Rocks

Though living in rural Costa Rica allows me to have access to many of the fascinating creatures I like to paint, it doesn't allow me to have access to the skills of using a camera. More times than I feel comfortable to mention, I have ventured into the rain forest with a good digital camera, an empty chip and a handful of batteries, only to return with some superb shots of my belly, or my feet, or a blurry image that could possibly be an elephant. Or a hummingbird. Can't tell for sure. So I rely on photos from pros with permission, friends who can use a camera, and an occasional shot I lucked out with. My friends at MINAE, Costa Rica's Ministry for Energy and the Environment, have supplied me with some priceless photos. When they encounter wildlife of interest, endangered or not, they photograph it and log its location. And give me a copy. Bless em.
Normally I wouldn't post my reference photo and my finished painting, but occasionally, I think it might be interesting. This photo was taken of a lone egret sunning himself on the banks of the Sarapiqui River. By no means endangered, the egret, with its snowy white feathers, often provides quite a striking visual display. I loved the image and composition, and, to me, it represents the best of rainforest nature...a haunting serenity, uncomplicated and unafflicted by human presence.
This is in acrylic on a 16 x 24 canvas, and is available for sale.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Blue Morph Butterfly

Even with the 350 varieties of butterflies in Costa Rica, it's not difficult to understand why the Blue Morph is the most popular. Its incredible iridescent blue is hard to describe and impossible to visualize unless you've actually seen one up close and personal. The blue color comes not from a pigment, but from an enzyme that "interferes" with the transmission of light. This is why nature artists get ulcers and stress from trying to depict this butterfly on canvas.

To get to San Jose from where I live, it's necessary to go through Braulio Carillo National Park. Seldom do I make that trip without spotting one or two fluttering along the roadway. Next to avalanches and car wrecks, they're the leading traffic stoppers. Impossible to miss, they're like a treasured glimpse of a magical creature from another space and dimension.

Highly prized among collectors and souvenir hunters, they are, thankfully, plentiful...with no indications of serious threat to their existence. Additional, there are numerous butterfly farms that raise these little beauties. I painted this one with acrylics on canvas. The original and giclee prints are available.