San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Artists’ Colony Alumni Exhibit in San José

Understanding the world that surrounds us, and our place in it, is a difficult task. Articulating and recreating the emotions attached to this effort is truly a daunting challenge. Yet this is exactly what three former participants of the Julia and David White Artists’ Colony in Ciudad Colón, southwest of San José, have each independently achieved. Presenting their impressions of the world around us and human interaction with our surrounding environment, Kathi Packer, André Paradis and Deirdre Schanen are displaying their work in a collective exhibit entitled “Costa Rica Inspirations” at San José’s National Gallery through the end of the month.

National Gallery Director Dunia Molina told The Tico Times she is thrilled to be able to present the three artists’ work.

“Most artists from the colony are operating at a very high level of art,” she said.

One of the draws to this particular exhibit is the variety in the artists’ work.

“None of them have much in common, apart from the abstract style, yet it’s all very amazing work,” Molina said. “Schanen’s work is full of beautiful colors,while Packer’s paintings are more dreamlike patterns with excellent composition.”

While at the artists’ colony in Ciudad Colón, Packer, 56, became fascinated with her environment. Constantly photographing the beautiful flora and fauna around her, she developed a keen interest in the delicate balance between man and the natural world.

She takes that interest into her work, portraying her experiences in the Costa Rican jungle. Most of her work was recreated after she returned to her home in the U.S. state of Connecticut, relying on vivid memory and photographs.

“In painting these unique spaces, I hope to celebrate the beauty, diversity and fragility of the forest,” she said. “I admire the vision and effort in Costa Rica to preserve a natural heritage at risk from deforestation.

It’s a beacon for many others to follow if we are to sustain life.”

Using a variety of media, Packer explores the micro and macro harmony between the human and the natural.

“These natural habitats and their unique space, flora and fauna are an important part of my imagery,” she explained. “With this visual language, I paint a dreamlike world of magic realism while telling a story about a fragile ecosystem.”

Fellow U.S. artist Deirdre Schanen’s abstract paintings portray her own experiences in Costa Rica in an exquisite collaboration of colors and reflections.

“Last year, while living at the colony in ciudad Colón, I took long walks through the countryside,” she recalled. “On those daily walks I filled my heart and sketchbook with images of the local people and towns. I painted these memories of Costa Rica onto canvas panels after I returned to my home  studio in Illinois.”

“Costa Rica captured my heart the very first day; it’s all about the light, the intense colors and that wonderful breeze,” Schanen added. “I spent my days watching the sunrise and the birds from a small hilltop at the colony … walking the beautiful, dusty roads and visiting Ciudad Colón and surrounding towns. I just sat and drew the people and the environment.”

Schanen’s work comes from her immediate emotions, literally developing in spontaneous expressions. She never plans her work, instead allowing each brushstroke to “dictate the next.”

“I did not know how my experiences (in Costa Rica) would be expressed in my finished paintings, because my paintings are not planned but developed while I work on them,” she confessed.

The result is brilliant surges of color and emotion.

“I like to have a conversation with the canvas,” Schanen explained. “Some of my work will have up to 15 layers of paint. I just keep building, aware of the colors that come through.”

Schanen, 62, grew up on Lake Michigan in the United States, and the lake’s distortion of images is reflected in much of her early work.

She continued that transformation of shapes and colors in her work from Costa Rica. Canadian-born artist André Paradis’moving paintings mainly involve abstract landscapes.

Born in Quebec City, Paradis has traveled widely, having lived in Montreal, Boston, and Paris and Hyères Les Palmiers in France. His works are displayed in various private and public collections throughout North America, Europe and Asia.

Paradis’ love of the physical environment is powerfully reflected in his portrayal of all corners of the globe. Every year, Paradis, 52, attempts to extend his work by studying in an artist’s residency in a different country.

“I’ve been to the north pole in Norway, the south of France, Spain and different residencies in the United States,” he said.

Paradis combines the simple beauty of aesthetic and emotional components when presenting his view of mountains, lakes, minerals and rock formations. His talent for bringing home his paintings’ beauty lies in his use of three-dimensional textures. He incorporates natural seeds, recycled glass and glass powder, to name a few elements, into his paintings to give his viewer a truly unique impression. With these concrete elements delicately woven into his work on the canvas, one cannot help but appreciate the union of the real and imaginary that Paradis creates.

“To make my landscapes, I use a combination of pure pigments and recycled glass powder mixed in an acrylic base,” he explained. “This gives texture to my work and brings light to the subject in a very special way.

“This is also one small way for me to contribute to the protection of the environment by promoting recycling in an artistic way. I think this fits well with Costa Rica.”

His Costa Rican inspiration is obvious in his latest collection, entitled “Cornucopia.”

“I fell in love with Costa Rica 17 years ago,” he said. “Since then I have returned eight times for longer periods each time. The nature and beauty of this country is a  constant source of inspiration.”

The National Gallery is housed within the Children’s Museum in downtown San José, at the north end of Calle 4. Hours are Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., weekends 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information on the artists, visit their respective Web sites:, and

Artists’ Colony Continues as Late Founder Envisioned

Since its founder’s sad passing two years ago, the Julia and David White Artists’ Colony in Ciudad Colón, southwest of San José, has been pushing forward to continue Bill White’s legacy.

Known for producing and refining world-class artists from around the globe, the colony offers a unique experience to artists looking for inspiration. Since White founded it in 1998 in memory of his children Julia and David, who both died young, the colony continues to bring hope to artists from diverse backgrounds.

Colony director Royce Slape told The Tico Times the colony is continuing as before, “without interruption or any significant changes to the program – exactly as Bill always envisioned.”

“As an artist-in-residency program, our primary function is to provide professional artists with a special place and uninterrupted time to concentrate on their work, as well as an environment conducive to networking with each other,” Slape said.

Slape became director before White’s passing, originally signing up for a year. That was more than four years ago.

“We continue to recruit artists from around the world, chosen through a committee selection process,” he explained. “In general, we tend to be scheduled full, with a minimum of seven artists, usually at least four to six months in advance. Right now we have artists scheduled well into 2008.”

Three of the colony’s recent guests will be displaying their work through the end of the month at San José’s National Gallery (see separate story). Slape fondly remembers the time Kathi Packer, Andre Paradis and Deirdre Schanen spent at the colony, and their impact there.

He said one of the colony’s goals is to help artists form close alliances with each other and with Costa Rican artists, in addition to making important connections to the Costa Rican art community.

“Kathi Packer, Andre Paradis and Deirdre Schanen could not be better examples of this,” he said, “as evidenced by this exhibit of their work and their return to both Costa Rica and the colony – all at significant cost to them in terms of their persistence, hard work, time and money.”

U.S. citizen Schanen said she soaked up the colony’s natural surroundings while she was there last year, and particularly enjoyed the companionship with the other visiting artists.

“There were only four other artists staying there, so it felt like family,” she recalled. “We’d often make dinner together, take Spanish lessons together, laugh a lot and, of course, discuss our art. Those conversations were very motivating for me.”

Canadian artist Andre Paradis shares Schanen’s sentiments about the colony.

“The staff is great and very supportive of our needs,” he said. “The colony is peaceful and quiet – a perfect place for both reflection and intense work sessions.” Packer said she couldn’t get enough of the colony experience.

“I had a wonderful experience at the colony,” the U.S. artist recalled. “It’s in a beautiful area of Costa Rica and the studio apartment where I stayed was perfect for my needs as an artist.”

For more information on the artists’ colony, call 249-1414 or visit


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