Like family members, the striking pieces of Costa Rican sculptor and painter Leda Astorga are everywhere in her house in the eastern San José suburb of San Pedro. Her voluminous, vibrant-colored concrete and plaster figures of all shapes and sizes are present on the patio, in her lightfilled studio, in the kitchen, on the floor, on side tables and in the living room, where even the ceiling is a playground for her realistic creations.
Astorga’s home is populated with immortal archetypes, such as a curvaceous beauty, undulating hair graced with tropical birds.
On a pedestal dances a middle-aged couple, cheek to cheek – but while he seems perfectly happy, she looks disgusted, holding her nose to avoid his unpleasant scent. There are angels and devils in love, and there is the smiling priest who widely spreads his cassock to hide two fellows behind his uncovered backside.
“Tenderness and humor are of great importance to me – they are always present in my work,” the San José-born artist says.
“Humor is an excellent door opener to begin a dialog. If I make you laugh, our communication can be more relaxed, fluid and open-minded. I’m sure that if there were more humor in the world, there would be less violence.”
Astorga masterly depicts characters with loving tenderness, playful provocation and, at times, merciless exactness. It’s her amused, female view of the human species that is her main subject. Reflected throughout her work is her understanding of self-acceptance and personal freedom.
“I aim to create authentic people. I want to encourage onlookers to accept themselves how they are without hiding behind masks, and to say what they want to say without restrictions,” Astorga explains. “That’s my idea of freedom.”
The award-winning artist is an icon in the contemporary Costa Rican art scene and an internationally acclaimed sculptor whose works have been featured throughout Central America, Europe and Taiwan. Highlights include her collaboration with French painter Jacques Hervot in a 2000 exhibition in San José entitled “Confusión en el Paraíso” (“Confusion in Paradise”), as well as a group showing of seven Costa Rican sculptors in the city park of Lahr, Germany, in 2001.
In March, Astorga’s 4.25-meter-high sculpture “Arco Iris” (“Rainbow”) became the symbol of the 10th International Art Festival in San José’s La Sabana Park. The Costa Rican mail service issued an edition of 40,000 commemorative stamps with the same motif for the occasion.
Astorga receives her inspiration from many sources. She loves to read, listens to the radio, watches people on the street and at the supermarket. She graciously manages to combine many roles: artist, cook, housewife, proud mother and grandmother and spouse of writer Adriano Corrales.
“When I walk the dog or shop for groceries, people might think, ‘There goes the crazy artist, her clothing spotted with clay and paint,’” says Astorga, who names French-born sculptor and action painter Niki de Saint Phalle as her favorite artist.
Concrete is Astorga’s medium, since it combines best with oil paint, she says. The process from the first model in clay to the final touches on the heavy sculpture is long and labor-intensive. Finishings can include accessories such as beds, chains, rings or fabric.
The beginnings of her career were not without difficulties. The daughter of Manuel Astorga, former mayor of two Costa Rican cities and a passionate painter, Astorga studied sculpture at the University of Costa Rica in San Pedro and graduated in 1984 under troubled circumstances. At first, her pieces for the graduation showing were completely rejected by the jury. Concrete was considered too rough and profane a material for artwork, and the strong colors and robustness of Astorga’s figures were thought to be inadequate.
After protesting, she eventually got her degree, “but they gave me minimum marks and destroyed one of my pieces,” Astorga recalls.
A 1990 scholarship from the New York based Pollock-Krasner Foundation and the support of her parents enabled Astorga to live through those difficult times as a single mother and young, prolific artist. After becoming a member and founder of two Costa Rican associations of cartoonists, she began to participate in humorist art showings.
Today, Astorga has more than a hundred group and solo exhibitions to her credit, and in Costa Rica her work can be seen in museums, galleries and private collections throughout the country.
“It’s a great satisfaction that people immediately recognize my work,” Astorga says. “The marvelous thing about art is how it helps me to build my life in a positive way.”
At present, the artist develops interactive art objects for Rincón de Lectura (Reading Corner), a project for public schools in Costa Rica and Nicaragua that was initiated by Universidad Nacional and the Ministry of Public Education to foster cultural approach between the two countries.
Astorga’s next exhibition is scheduled for October in Coral Gables, Florida, where two of her sculptures will be on display at The Americas Collection.
At night, when all the humans are asleep in Astorga’s San Pedro home, one imagines her creations coming to life, giggling, smirking and gathering to perform a mysterious round dance to a music no mortal can hear.
For information, contact the artist at [email protected].