Galería Luna Llena, a little-known artists’ gallery in Lagunilla de Heredia, north of San José, is the brainchild of multimedia artist Juan Victor Chaves.
The old-fashioned, two-story exterior, designed by Chaves two years ago, stands out from the nondescript homes and businesses alongLagunilla Street
in south-eastern Heredia. Inside the ornate wrought-iron doors is a breezy white-tiled gallery displaying Chaves’ newest collections and interior design work. The back wall and ceiling display faux-finish embellishments, an Italian technique that creates an illusion of space on two-dimensional surfaces.
“It’s a very old concept,” Chaves says.
Painted windows facing out over green hills, ceilings of blue, angel-studded skies and a wooden fence laced with climbing ivy exemplify the technique, which Chaves aims to popularize in Central America.
When asked if his art is Costa Rican, Chaves answers, “I always say that art is universal, from the human soul … it has no nationality.”
Even so, some of his works, such as “La Herencia (The Inheritance)”, an oil painting depicting a small hand receiving a coffee branch from an older generation’s grasp, evoke a sense of commemoration that is unmistakably Tico.
Chaves, 48, was born and raised on a family coffee plantation in San Ramón, northwest of the capital. There he began exploring artistic expression through his rural surroundings.
His father was a beekeeper, an activity that supplied the budding artist with his first natural medium; Chaves began making beeswax figurines and miniature sculptures as a small child. He also drew, copying advertisements and book illustrations.
“I remember the day I drew the Quaker Oats man,” Chaves recalls, laughing, “That was an accomplishment at 8 years old.”
His local fame grew as he won art contests featuring paintings of the church and townspeople. It was then he realized his calling and decided to study art as a career, an unlikely choice for a young man from a farming family.
Since graduating in 1982 from the University of Costa Rica (UCR) with a fine arts degree, Chaves has spent the past 25 years exploring the mediums of oil, acrylic, watercolor, wood, resin and metals. Decades of work reflect a range of themes, from the colorful acrylic “Gente del Mar (People of the Sea, 1998)” to more recent conceptual art as part of numerous exhibitions with “Arte en el Rescate” (Rescued Art, 1998-2005), combining “rescued” construction items and various metals for vibrant three-dimensional pieces.
Chaves maintains a commitment to the environment by incorporating materials that would otherwise be thrown away – from wooden doors and wrought-iron gates to plastic plates. “Liberemos el Amor” (Let’s Liberate Love, 2004) features a wistful, bronze-cast sun gazing over a wooden balcony, which was rescued from an obscure fate in a landfill.
“The environmental part is important,” Chaves says. “We will disappear if we don’t take social responsibility.”
The artist’s environmental consciousness extends to his supplies; he incorporates environmentally friendly materials such as papers made from pineapple and banana fibers, pressed sawdust and nontoxic paints.
Chaves’ latest collection is entitled “Angeles de la Luna Llena (Angels of the Full Moon, 2006).” These 14 oil paintings illustrate his current passion: the metaphysical world.
“I’m learning about life and looking for answers at a spiritual level,” Chaves says, adding that he hopes the future owners of his paintings will be filled with the hope and peace the angels represent.
In addition to the pieces he sells from his gallery, Chaves lends his artistic hand to projects including illustrations for coloring books, a design for the national lottery, souvenir maps, murals and award plaques for organizations such as the Neotropical Foundation and the Live Ocean Foundation.
Chaves’ work has been exhibited as far as Japan, but he and his wife Guiselle Hidalgo maintain a commitment to social and environmental projects close to home. Hidalgo, who oversees the administration of Luna Llena Gallery, serves on the board of directors of Terra Nostra, an environmental nonprofit organization. The couple’s next project is a pro bono mural at El Hogarcito in Aserrí, south of San José, a home for children with incarcerated parents.
Luna Llena is open to visitors by appointment, and Chaves and Hidalgo are unfolding plans to host art workshops. The gallery is located 300 meters west of the Jardines de Recuerdo cemetery in Lagunilla de Heredia.
For more information, call 260-0664 or 812-7248, or e-mail [email protected].