Julio Larraz: Art with a Message

April 22, 2005

THE Costa Rican Art Museum is hostinginternationally acclaimed artist JulioLarraz and his collection of 69 paintings,entitled Treinta Años de Trabajo (ThirtyYears of Work). On a scale of artisticimportance rarely seen in Costa Rica,Larraz’s style and subjects are a must-seefor art lovers.Larraz was born in Havana, Cuba, in1944, to a family that owned and operatedthe Cuban newspaper La Discusión. In1966, the family left Cuba to start a newlife in Miami.The artist began his career as a politicalcartoonist in New York, and his depictionsof Indira Ghandi and Richard Nixon,among others, were featured in TheWashington Post, The New York Times,Esquire and Rolling Stone, as well as onthe cover of Time magazine. At that time,he signed his works with his father’s name,Julio Fernández. When he began to paint,he signed his creations “Julio Larraz,”using his mother’s last name.LARRAZ’S style is provocative inthat the viewer is often surprised uponcloser inspection of his works. Whatappear to be still lifes and unassuminglandscapes are often backdrops for powerfulmetaphorical messages.Through the contrast of combining theinnocuous with the alarming or potentiallybrutal – a nude man standing in a tranquilriver holding an automatic rifle, for example– Larraz manages to evoke a sense ofsurrealism using realistic figures.The realistic coupled with the absurdcreates a distinction between what is simpleand humane and what is simply classist.In many pieces, the viewer experiencesLarraz’s abject distaste for the rulingclass through the clever capturing of a certaingrossness of character – for example,the artist’s ruthlessly unattractive depictionof a chalky-complected woman lookingsurly in the backseat of a luxury car.Another important element in theexhibit is that we come into contact withthe artist’s way of viewing man versus manor, more subtly, man versus religion andpolitics. We also see important piecesfocusing on the destruction of the environment,with large steamboats and trainsagainst a backdrop of forests and lakes.A central theme of the collection is anirony that would be humorous if the socialmessages weren’t of such a serious nature.And the artist’s choice of incisive and ironictitles is almost as enjoyable as the piecesthemselves. For example, a piece entitledFaites Venir les Clowns (French for “BringIn the Clowns”) shows a forehead with asuspiciously Castro-esque receding hairlinein the foreground and a forebodingmilitary presence in the background.In contrast, an appreciation of what isinherently lush and innocent about theCaribbean adds a special touch to theexhibit; these pieces seem to be the onlyelements of the display lacking in Larraz’scharacteristic insolent mockery. Throughthe captivating rendering of fishermen andbeautiful women in unblemished naturalsurroundings, we get the chance to see atalent whose techniques and themes havemade him into one of Latin America’smore important expressionists.WHETHER appreciating Larraz’sstyle or his subjects, the viewer can enjoyhis irony, exacting realism and his message.“Art is part of life – objects that candecorate your home or surroundings, andgive you pleasure to look at,” Larraz says.“If it does not take on value, all the better.“But for me, the desire to paint is avice. I do it because I need it. Creating ismy life, my hobby, my everything. Mywhole universe revolves around it.”The exhibit will be on display at theCosta Rican Art Museum, on the east sideof La Sabana Park, through May 30.Museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 10a.m.-4 p.m., and Sundays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.For more information, call 222-7155.

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