Andrey Ramírez likes to work in a big way, in every sense of the phrase. His canvas is often larger than usual because his primary focus is on painting murals and church ceilings. Even though Ramírez has his own art studio in San José, many of his finished pieces go on to become part of these larger displays.
The artist, who is mostly self-taught, worked for a few years in engineering and then studied International Relations, but is now completely dedicated to his art. He’s working on the restoration of the Basilica of Naranjo, a national heritage building where he is painting a mural of more than 25 square meters.
The Tico Times talked to the artist about his early career and his perception of the arts in Costa Rica. Excerpts follow.
How did you start painting?
When it was a bad time in the construction industry, I was doing nothing for a while, and I was really stressed. My dad [also a painter] was working on [a mural] at the Cathedral of Alajuela and told me to help him. I didn’t like it at first, but I started getting more and more into the wall. Art chose me.
Up until 7 or 8 years ago, art was more like a hobby. My family did not want me to devote my life to art, even though my dad was an artist. But if you have the mindset and attitude, you will find a way to support yourself. I sold my first painting when I was 9 years old. My dad put it a frame and my uncle bought it for $2. He still has it at his house.
How would you describe your style?
Magical realism and surrealism. Nevertheless, I have worked a lot in churches, so it’s religious, too. A lot of theology. It’s like a combination. For example, I include more colorful clouds than those usually seen in a Holy Trinity painting. I paint the clouds as one often sees them in the evenings: purple, pink, yellow, with stars and comets. I like to paint psychedelic skies. I feel it is a new contribution to art.
I paint murals and landscapes, and really like painting nudes. Sometimes I paint abstracts on request. It’s not what I usually do, but I always keep an open mind. Someday, what I would really like to do is to have someone give me a story or some poetry and ask me to do a painting based on it. I’ve done it for myself: I like to base works on the poems of Khalil Gibran.
How do you see the arts developing in Costa Rica?
I think in some way it’s changing. Elementary and high schools aren’t stimulating people’s creativity… but I see that people now are more interested in going to the International Arts Festival or the Art City Tour, and doing different types of art… I feel that the pursuit of art is growing among young people. I think it’s a kind of revolution. People want to belong to something that contributes to the world. Gradually, you see the change.
It’s also difficult because art is perceived as something expensive, and it can be. Usually a person can’t use a minimum wage to buy a piece of art. We must find new ways to reach more elements of society.
Do you see painting as a way to communicate?
Yes, but it’s difficult for people to relate a sequence of images to a certain subject. What people usually tell me is, “That’s so crazy,” or “Only you can understand that.” But it’s not that way. I try to be critical about politics and society. I like to express the oppression exercised by the government… but I make a picture and sometimes people ask me… what it means. If people had a little more culture, much more could be said. Usually even artists have to ask each other what their paintings are about.
What are your future plans?
Next year I want to travel to South America, to Argentina, as a backpacker, with the mission of soaking up and doing more art. I want to paint murals in every city I visit, and of course I hope to grow as an artist. I want to stay for some time in Buenos Aires, and then maybe go to Europe. I have always wanted to go see the art that inspired me since I was a child. I saw Michelangelo, Rafael, Caravaggio, and wondered: how did they do so much, and now we do so little? Art now is done pretty fast, but they searched for perfection and spent years doing one painting. Now, it’s not feasible to do a painting during many years if people won’t be able to pay for it.
I have done sculptures as well, and like contemporary dance and theater, so I have this long-term idea to learn different types of art and make a fusion of all of them. To create an event or a performance where people can interact with different types of art and with different artists, too.
Read more Weekend Arts Spotlight interviews here.
Our “Weekend Arts Spotlight” presents Sunday interviews with artists who are from, working in, or inspired by Costa Rica, ranging from writers and actors to dancers and musicians. Do you know of an artist we should consider, whether a long-time favorite or an up-and-comer? Email us at [email protected].