Dinorah Bolandi was pregnant with lines and curves, colors and shadows. She never had a child of her own, but upon her death the Costa Rican artist and educator released from the warm womb of her Escazú home a collection of her paintings, drawings and quilts, which the Central Bank Museums adopted and now has on display.
Seventy of the 263 drawings Bolandi bequeathed to the Central Bank Museums went on display in February. The interactive exhibition, which attempts to capture the spirit of Bolandi as an educator with drawing and art stations where attendees can pick up the pencil, will be on display until June 15.
By all accounts, Bolandi was an introvert, who at least in her later years rarely left her home in the western San José suburb of Escazú except to stop a neighbor passing by and ask if she could draw him or her.
Her portraits are stark reminders of human suffering, potential, imperfection and beauty. Her landscapes seem like quiet places to hide from existence.
A multifaceted artist, Bolandi was also a photographer and graphic designer who for some time worked with Artes Gráficas de Centroamérica, the print company founded and run by late Tico Times Publisher Richard Dyer, which printed the newspaper from 1963 to 1974.
Present-day TT publisher and daughter of Richard, Dery Dyer, remembers learning about photo mechanics and the printing process from the knowledgeable Bolandi, 25 years her senior, during summers between college classes. Dyer described her former teacher as “modest” and “humble,” qualities that led Bolandi to refuse the Culture Ministry’s Magón prize, Costa Rica’s top cultural award, in 1990.
“She was very, very private about her art. We barely saw it at all … that’s why she never had an exhibit,” Dyer said.
Bolandi sold even less of her art than she showed, according to Ileana Alvarado, curator of visual arts at the Central Bank Museums and a friend of Bolandi’s.
Alvarado called Bolandi “one of the best art teachers in Costa Rica, ever.” Born in San José, Bolandi taught at the University of Costa Rica (UCR) and National University (UNA), among other institutions, after her return to Costa Rica from the United States, where she studied painting and guitar at Colorado Women’s College and The Art Students League of New York.
Though Alvarado described her as “super tica … made of gallo pinto,” it was perhaps in Bolandi’s time away from Costa Rica that she developed some idiosyncrasies uncharacteristic of this idiosyncratic country.
“She was very direct. She didn’t beat around the bush to say what she thought,” Alvarado said.
Bolandi was the daughter of one of Costa Rica’s first cinematographers, Walter Bolandi, who was key in producing Costa Rica’s first soundtrack film “El Retorno.” She was in her 50s when the two were riding on a bus and her father had a heart attack and died, according to Alvarado. Bolandi’s father inspired the artist’s paintings of the Escazú cemetery, where he was buried.
Bolandi’s mother Marina Jiménez lived on, and became one of the artist’s most important models, along with her dog Linda. Bolandi’s subjects were often people close to her, family members and friends, which gives her art an intimate feel.
Paintings, drawings and photos of Bolandi’s mother fill the exhibit’s walls. The artist kept painting and painting her dying mother, obsessed with catching each wrinkle in the hands of the pianist who gave birth to her. Bolandi’s mother emerges from the exhibit as a symbol of solidarity sitting in a rocking chair, of time’s toll on life, of the wisdom of motionlessness.
In her later years, Bolandi suffered from cerebral ischemia, a condition in which the brain or parts of it don’t receive enough blood flow.
“She always said she had ‘a little problem,’” Alvarado said, explaining that Bolandi was quiet about her condition. Bolandi died in 2004, leaving behind a large portion of her art to the museum.
The exhibit tries to capture Bolandi’s spirit as an educator by giving visitors a chance to pick up a pencil and draw still-life scenes. Entire university classes have filled up some of the exhibit’s empty rooms in an attempt to perfect their strokes, Alvarado said.
A half-naked body lay limp upon a diagonal cold concrete wall of the museum on a recent afternoon. Six painters stood in front of easels, filling the papers in front of them with shapes.
“I believe there is creativity in everyone,” a quote from Bolandi at the museum reads.
“What they have to do is look for the opportunity to discover that they can do it, too.”
See It Yourself
Who: Dinorah Bolandi, late Costa Rican artist and educator.
What: More than 100 of her drawings, paintings, textiles, photos and quilts, on display in an interactive art exhibit.
Where: Second floor of the Central Bank Museums (243-4208, www.museosdelbancocentral.org), beneath Plaza de la Cultura in downtown San José.
When: Through June 15. The museum’s hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost: Foreigners, $7. Costa Ricans and residents, $2; free entry every Wednesday and the first Sunday of each month.