San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Contest-shy Artist Wins People’s Choice Award at U.S. Exhibit

When artist Jim Theologos received a recent People’s Choice Award, he was more surprised than anyone. And not in the I-happen-to-have-a-preparedspeech Oscar sense.

“I’ve never entered a contest,” he said, admitting that he likely would have thought twice about sending works to the prize-giving exhibit had he gotten wind of any competitive element. “But there’s nothing as nice as having the feeling that people like what you’re doing.”

And they clearly do. The People’s Choice Award was the only one given out at “The Origins of Coffee,” an installation that ran late last year at the FirehouseCenter for the Visual Arts in the U.S. state of Vermont.

The center, steered toward his work by a friend, invited Theologos to represent Costa Rica with 10 works. He put together a selection of pastels, and one – “Old Man and the Sea” – struck a particular chord with visitors.

The chalk-on-chalk portrait of a weathered, nameless man in the Caribbean province of Limón (based on a photo Theologos took years ago) owes much of its hyper-reality to technique. Dry, unblended strokes add a rusticity and strength, explained the acclaimed artist.

“This old man lived a very long life,” said Theologos, speculating on why the image resonated so strongly with exhibit visitors.

“He’s not a beaten man, he’s just a man who has lived.”

Born in 1940 to Greek-Italian parents, the native New Yorker worked as a professional photographer in the Big Apple before coming to Costa Rica in 1973 with his wife Angie. Since then, he has taught painting and developed his pastel and oil creations, including a series entitled “Faces of Central America.” But throughout all this time, he has shied away from contests.

“I know it’s a foible of mine,” he said, saying that contests can tempt artists to play to the judges or the public, undermining what he feels are the important elements of art.

But art is communication, and Theologos says he is ready to listen to what this award has to tell him. Not only is it a concrete vote of appreciation from the people, it has almost become a catalyst to a new attitude.

The experience, he admitted with a laugh, has gone a long way toward overcoming his reluctance to enter contests.

“I felt it was an honor to represent Costa Rica, and even more of an honor to win,” he said. “I’ve gotten to the point where I’m not going to play to the judges or the public. If the people like it, they do, and if not, there’ll be other judges and people who will.”

Theologos’ next exhibit will take place in Zurquí, dates to be announced. Samples of his work can be viewed at (under the Residents heading) or at his home gallery (225-6565).


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