San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Abstract Artist Goes Beyond Visual Vocabulary

“Today painters do not have to go to a subject matter outside of themselves. Most modern painters work from a different source. They work from within.”

–Jackson Pollock (1912-1956),

U.S. abstract expressionist

Abstract art is generally understood to mean art that does not depict objects in the natural world, but instead uses color and form in a nonrepresentational or subjective way. A representative of this style in Costa Rica is painter Harriet Weyman-Sheppard, an energetic woman with a ponytail and eyes the color of the ocean.

“Abstraction is a natural process, an attempt to capture the essence of an object rather than to depict its appearance,” says Weyman-Sheppard, originally from the U.S. city of Atlanta, referring to the abstract artwork that adorns her house in the coffee town of Atenas, northwest of San José. She and her husband Richard moved here a year ago because they wanted to live in a small town, and Atenas had what they were looking for.

Dominated by striking colors and powerful brush strokes, Weyman-Sheppard’s canvases are statements of her intention to express ideas without speaking them.

“I want the viewer to understand ‘treeness,’ for instance, without painting a tree,” she says.

Weyman-Sheppard knew she wanted to be an artist at the age of 7. Encouraged by her mother, an interior designer, she took art in college and later studied at GeorgiaStateUniversity, where she received her Master of Fine Arts in 1983. She has been exhibited often in Atlanta, and worked there as the curator of an art gallery at a private school, where she says she made some interesting observations.

“We rely heavily on our visual vocabulary, and abstraction stands outside of this concept,” she says. “Introducing first-graders to it, I noticed that after the age of 6, many people lose their ability to appreciate this style.”

Weyman-Sheppard receives her inspirations from many sources. She likes to look at artwork by other artists as well as her own, and loves to watch the rolling hills and lush foliage around her home.

While working, she must be alone and undisturbed. To create a series of paintings, the artist first draws for several months.

When she works on the canvas, she uses acrylics, oils and house paint, and often starts out putting a wash over the entire canvas in different colors. Trying to give up her rational process, she makes a spontaneous mark in one area and later responds to it in another, and so on. To enhance the dynamic, spontaneous and dramatic impact of the painting, she sometimes employs dripped or slung paint.

“I definitely work in layers,” the artist says. “And while I’m working, it’s important to me to give up control … Therefore I sometimes work on the floor.

“Each time I approach a new canvas, I feel like I have never painted before – I feel completely lost.”

Throughout the painting process, Weyman-Sheppard says she feels a tension that doesn’t go away until the piece is finished.

The abstract painter explains that the purpose of her art is to express time and space, “and to strive for tension and conflict in the same way a fiction writer does.”

Weyman-Sheppard names modern artists such as U.S. painters Frank Stella and Franz Kline as important figures to her. The latter, who is mainly associated with the abstract expressionists, is best known for his blackand-white paintings.

“I especially like Kline’s work because it’s so strong and painterly,”Weyman-Sheppard says. “It’s very loose and without sentiment.”

For more information about Weyman-Sheppard and her work, contact the artist at


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