San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Artist Cali Rivera Achieves ‘Alchemy’

With spiked, bleached hair and wide, curious eyes, Tico artist Cali Rivera works the room at the June 12 opening of his exhibit “Alquimia” (“Alchemy”) at Galería Kandinsky, in the eastern San José suburb of San Pedro, greeting press, fans and friends.

The 39-year-old creator of the Taller del Arista, an artists’ workshop, restaurant and bar in Tres Ríos, farther east, describes his latest exhibit – his first in a private gallery in Costa Rica – as comprising “very symbolic, ethereal work.”

Keys and glass eyes are leitmotifs in this exhibit. Many of the pieces grow around recycled materials, and, as the name of the show suggests, Rivera has tried to transform the materials and their significance into something different.

As he speaks, a mobile dangles next to him, hanging from the ceiling and resembling an antiquity-meets-space age version of a dream catcher. The piece, “Pendiente Alquimia” (“Pending Alchemy”), rather than the feathers and woven wood of the American Indian protective charms, is made of hand-painted gems and keys coated in porcelain, each attached to a bronze and copper wheel-shaped frame.

“It conveys a bit of cleaning up the energy, protection from bad vibes,” Rivera says. Rivera describes himself as a self-taught artist. After 20 years working with art and exhibiting as far as Japan and France, Rivera has made a name in the local Costa Rican scene, which artists say is tiny but buzzing. “Exhibiting here is really meaningful for me,” Rivera says.

He walks over to another piece, two pairs of shoe-shaped forms, one tomato red and the other primary blue. The heels of the “feet” are lifted slightly by strings hanging from the ceiling, and the toe parts rest on pillows.

The shoe models are made of wood and liquid porcelain, Italian Murano glass, sprinkles of golden dust and small, black, coffee bean-like pebbles on the sole. The whole foot is coated in glossy resin. Called “Epifanios,” the piece is bright and fun, verging on pop.

Rivera says it’s a tribute to a special person of a bygone era in the Curridabat neighborhood, also on the east side, close to the gallery.

“This is an homage to the last shoemaker of Curridabat, named Epifanio,” the artist says. “He had messenger pigeons. He was a boxer, and a lover of soles.”

“Alquimia” is on display through July 11 at Galería Kandinsky, in the Calle Real commercial center in San Pedro. For information, call 2234-0478.n


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