He’s caked in white powder, but he keeps on grinding. With his trembling arthritic fingers, he thrusts his chisel into the marble again and again. Ashen dust floats up and assimilates into his white beard and hair.
José Sancho is in the zone. I imagine he doesn’t feel much like talking, so I wait for his age to catch up with him, causing him to rest from his toiling, before I ask the artist my first question: If he could be an animal, what would it be?
“That doesn’t exist. I’m a human being and I can’t be anything else. Though I wouldn’t mind being a snake,” he blurts out, pauses, and then slips back into his world of smooth marble and hovering dust.
Strolling around in the yard outside the house the carpenter and sculptor built in the western San José suburb of Escazú, it’s easy to pinpoint his inspiration: nature and women.
They are, he admits, the two most important things in his life, which is surely why his studio and lawn are littered with sculptures of wooden sloths, nude marble women, and, in his “serpentario,” a collection of granite snakes.
At least that’s what they look like to me. Of course, he’s reluctant to claim that he ever created a sloth, snake or woman.
“It’s whatever you want. I never say what I’m doing so everyone can interpret (the pieces) for themselves,” says the divorced 72-year-old.
Sancho rubs the soft marble curves of his sculpture-in-the-making, which looks to me like the female form. He refuses to confirm my suspicion. Nor will he tell me what the 10-ton chunk of granite he shipped across the Atlantic Ocean and plopped in his yard is. He bought the granite in Italy and then carved it here. It looks something like a snake coiled up in the form of a vagina. It’s his favorite sculpture.
He’s never taken a sculpting class. Inspired by Picasso and Roman sculptor Constantine Brancusi, as much as by pre-Hispanic art, he just kind of taught himself, he says.
Once a career economist who studied at the University of Costa Rica (UCR) and in Italy, Sancho, at the age of 40, had an epiphany.
“I was born for this,” he says laconically but cordially, looking up from his marble piece. The Costa Rican grew up on the beach before coming here and living in the woods.
“In Puntarenas (the Central Pacific port city), I lived next to the sea, next to the birds and fish. And now I have been here 40 years living in the country. The insects, the birds, the snakes, they inspire me,” he says.
The son of a flutist makes his music with wood and rock, and has traveled halfway around the world and back, seeking inspiration for his work.
I feel like a tourist as the sculptor shows me his front yard, which is decorated with his art. Here I discover a colony of red tropical penguins.
“It’s a penguin colony,” he says, laughing and pointing to a cluster of pointy, brightred metallic forms in his yard, “to increase the biodiversity.”
He has been to Antarctica, he adds. Twice. The penguins are red because it is his favorite color, and it complements the green forest that surrounds his home. His house, which he built from the ground up, then painted, is also red. So is his pickup truck.
After he finishes our tour of his yard art, I take the tour again by myself, while Sancho goes back to sculpting his piece of marble on a table he created, outside the house he created, surrounded by all the other things he created.
Sancho’s clients range from INBioparque – a park and research center in Heredia, north of San José, to which he has donated two dozen works – to the luxurious Four Seasons resort in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, to just about anybody interested in buying one of his sculptures to adorn their lawn or house.
If you’re interested in purchasing some of Sancho’s art, he says you can find him at his home in Bello Horizonte de Escazú, 200 meters south of the Frutería Los Reyes. His home garden is open to the public.