San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Portraitist Gets to the Heart of the Subject

Eighth in an ongoing series on Atenas based artists.

Throughout the history of art, portraiture has been an intriguing genre, featuring everyone from Egyptian pharaohs to Renaissance nobles, and from celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe to the flower seller on the street corner. Portraiture is a way of recording people – their personality, character, status, the environment in which they live – or of simply showing beauty.

“During the late 19th-century impressionist period, which marks the beginning of modern art, the concept of painting changed remarkably, concentrating on the general impression produced by a scene or object,” explains Larry Gray, 57, an artist specializing in portraits, landscapes and the human figure. The impressionist-realist painter retired two years ago in the coffee town of Atenas, northwest of San José, to dedicate himself to art.

“While I’m painting, I focus on something positive, a landscape or life model,” says Gray, a native of the U.S. city of Tucson. “It’s a form of meditation to me, an in-depth life experience. I can open up when I paint and can be as sensitive as possible. I can see and feel more and more intensely than I ever would in daily life.”

Through the painting process, Gray learns to understand his subject’s personality and history. His first approach is always a loose draft in pastels. Painting on the canvas, he prefers oils because they stay fluid over a longer period of time and look the same wet and dry. Oils enable him to capture new depths of the sitter’s appearance and individuality.

“I always felt drawn to paint human beings, since they are the most complex and fascinating subjects on earth,” he says. In accordance with the concept that painting is a form of communication, Gray wants to share his enriching and rewarding experiences with the viewer.

“I would like people to stop for a little while to contemplate my art – to get out of their daily routine,” he says. “I want them to take in the beauty, pick up the positive energy and appreciate that there is more to life.”

While working in his studio, Gray listens to jazz and other kinds of inspiring music. He especially likes Don McLean’s “Vincent,” a tribute to Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, one of his role models. French painters such as Claude Monet and Paul Gauguin are important to him, he says, as well as Italianborn U.S. artist John Singer Sargent.

Gray’s parents were both artistically inclined. His mother was the one to discover his talent.

“My mother was my supporter,” he recalls. “She took me from a 2-year-old scribbling on the floor to introducing me at the age of 11 to the portraitist, etcher and genre painter John Law Walker, from whom I received art lessons for one year.”

At the age of 19, Gray decided he wanted to be independent artistically as well as financially. While making a living as a real estate investor, he became a painter – but rather than taking courses, he made friends and spent time with artists, who gave him guidance and advice. In the 1990s he began to paint on a regular basis, helped to organize art exhibits at The Drawing Studio in Tucson and was frequently shown in Arizona.

Here in Costa Rica he organizes informal drawing and painting gatherings on Sunday mornings for Atenas-based artists he has befriended.

Gray says that prior to his move here he had heard positive things about the country for decades, and eventually managed to visit for a week. He immediately fell in love with the small country in the heart of the Americas and decided to stay.

“Costa Rica is Mother Nature to me,”Gray says. “When I vacationed here in August 2004, I felt like coming home. Now I want to be here for the rest of my life.”

Gray’s art can be viewed and bought in Atenas. For information, call 446-0483.


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