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The Zen of leafy landscapes

January 6, 2014

Ana Rita Rosales’ paint strokes are light and free, as if she’s barely dabbing the canvas. Her landscapes look as effortless as footprints. The colors and forms fall into place, smudged into coherence.

There are at least two ways to look at Rosales’ series, “In the Blink of an Eye,” now on display at Galería López Escarré, in San José’s National Theater. The first is casually: As you sip coffee by the window, your eye may drift to her paintings, and you will notice immediately that every picture depicts a tree, or several trees. The trees have different hues and arrangements, but they’re all painted in a relaxed impressionist style. You may smile and nod, imagine one of those pictures in your den, and go back to your newspaper.

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Courtesy of the National Theater

You might even confuse Rosales’ paintings for a greeting card illustration, the kind of stuff you’d find in Hallmark stores and Crate & Barrel catalogues. Any of these portraits would look perfectly fine on a “get well” card, opposite a rhyming poem.

But Rosales deserves some appreciation, because “Blink” is richer than it appears at first glance; indeed, it may be richer than even Rosales realizes. The artist says her work is inspired by Puntarenas, a place that “makes me experience peace and tranquility” and where “one can find a different vision of life.” That’s nice and all, but I think she’s feeling more than peace and tranquility. “Blink” suggests a kind of spiritual bond with nature. The pieces behave like meditations. The paintings seem remarkably Japanese.

To explain: In the Zen tradition of hitzuzendo, the painter enters a trance, feels a heightened connection to the universe, and expresses this communion with paint. The process is physical (practitioners paint standing up), but the strokes exert almost no effort. The breezy compositions look startlingly similar to Rosales’ paintings. Rosales even sections off her textured paper, using white space to frame each piece. From a distance, the paintings look professionally matted, but it’s just the same paper left untouched. You could say that what is not painted is nearly as important as what is. Whether Rosales knows it or not, the simplicity of her work seems profoundly Buddhist in character.

In the art world, Rosales is known as “Akita,” the same as the Japanese dog breed, so she may already be aware of the Zen echoes in her work. But it hardly matters. “Blink” is a beautiful series, a triumph of subtlety, and a nice departure from her earlier efforts: Previous tree paintings in Rosales’ portfolio look like the pages of children’s books. Here, she seems more liberated. Many patrons will glance at “Blink” and shrug with indifference. Others, hopefully, will see a forest for the trees.

“In the Blink of an Eye” continues through Feb. 22. López Escarré Gallery, National Theater, San José. Info: teatronacional.go.cr.

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