San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Interview with a Master: Rafa Fernández Speaks Out

RAFA Fernández needs no introductionin this, his native country. He is toCosta Ricans what Botero is to Colombians:a cultural icon and a source ofnational pride. But who exactly is the manbehind the public persona?Stepping into Rafa Fernández’s SanPedro home, east of San José, is like enteringone of his paintings. The house is furnishedwith his passions, obsessions andmemories. Here, the artist’s ubiquitouswomen take the form of the doting wife,daughter and maid.The domestic space is also a privatemuseum, an ode to his talent. Some of hismost famous paintings are found here: “ElSueño I,” “La Viajera,” “La Dama delAlba” and “Dama del Retiro.” The livingroom houses Fernández’s other obsessions:mechanical toys and puppets. They areeverywhere, bursting out of curio cabinetsand dangling from ceilings, reminders of amore carefree time when collecting objectswas an end in itself. The house is all aboutFernández, right down to the cat, his fetishanimal. The artist’s presence is felt beforehe even shows up.Once a dynamo who dominated thecountry’s social scene, Fernández nowprefers the privacy of his home. Since sufferinga stroke in 2002, he has granted fewinterviews. However, he says he is nowready to speak out again.Despite health problems, the artistwants us to know he has not stopped painting,or dreaming. At 70, the master can stillcommand attention with a wave of thehand. The body may be weak, but the spiritof creativity is as strong as ever.“PAINTING has been generous tome,” Fernández once wrote. “It has givenme everything. Life never denied me anything,but neither has it given me anythingfor free.”If life has at times been stingy to RafaFernández, art has given him his justreward. The Costa Rican Art Museum helda retrospective of his works in December.In 2002, the Ministry of Culture, Youth andSports awarded the artist its most prestigiousprize, the Magón, for lifetimeachievement. His other prizes and internationalawards are too numerous to mention.Perhaps more important than officialawards is the influence Fernández hasexerted on his peers. A younger generationof artists who studied under the masternow paints in the “Rafa Fernández style.”More than two dozen of the artist’s latestpaintings are being exhibited at GaleríaKandinsky in San Pedro through August28. Entitled “La Mirada Furtiva” (TheFurtive Glance), the exhibit features miniaturespainted this year. Unlike the artist’sdark, tortuous works of 2003, the year afterillness struck, these newest paintings speakof renewal. They are the faces of hope afterthe storm. They are indeed furtive glancesinto the private world of one of CostaRica’s most beloved artists.DESPITE his busy schedule, Fernándezgranted The Tico Times the followinginterview in June. Acting as interpreterswere his daughter and Galería Kandinskydirector Alma Fernández and professorEugenia Yglesias of Universidad Veritas inZapote, in southeastern San José.TT: Ahousehold of beautiful women.Is this how you remember your childhood?Or is it only wishful thinking?RF: For me, women have been the centerof my life. Of course, this is an idealizedfemale concept. I have always saidthat women are the scent of life, the perfumeof a shared life. I came to the conclusionthat in my painting, there is space forneither perpetrators of wars nor predators.There is space only for creators of life.Can you tell us something aboutyour childhood?My childhood was one of honorablepoverty. I had a common background that Imanaged to transform into a sort of magicallife. I became a creator of enchanted objects.Animals such as birds and catsappear regularly in your paintings. Suchsymbols differ from culture to culture.What do these animals represent to you?Since childhood, I had absolute admirationfor Egyptian culture. The cat is amagical animal that can change itself into abird to adorn the head of my women. Thecat represents a mysterious being, waiting,impassive. It has an attitude that one eitherlikes or hates. The bird is like a series ofmusical notes playing airs for our ears.How have your health problemsinfluenced your outlook on life in generaland on art in particular?There is no doubt that what has happenedto me changed my outlook on life.Before, I was on a desperate path, likeSisyphus pushing the stone uphill. Now,calm has come.How would you describe the currentstate of the arts in Central America?The state of the arts here is the same as in other developing countries. Look forit under contemporary art but not underLatin American art. Nobody – no painter– has found the key to Latin American art.Perhaps (Venezuelan painter and sculptor)Jesús Soto with his “penetrables” …But artists here make a contemporary artthat is peer-reviewed, copied from Europeanand North American magazines, lookingfor something that in the end becomesa copy.Can you tell us about your next project?I have an exhibit opening July 28 atGalería Kandinsky called “La MiradaFurtiva”: 25 miniatures painted this year. Itis as if a time of my life has been tornaway, and I have awakened to the subtleworld of painting – my painting.

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