San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Atenas atelier home to U.S. realist painter

The western Central Valley coffee town of Atenas continues to be a mecca for expat artists drawn to the area’s famously fine climate and pastoral lifestyle.

U.S. painter Al Alexander, 67, joined the Atenas artist community’s ranks four years ago, moving here from Milford, New Jersey, with his wife, Jean, a retired landscape architect, following the recommendations of artist friends.

“We wanted to get off the treadmill and escape the cold northeastern winters,” Alexander says.

Now settled in a rustic wooden house in Atenas, the traditional realist painter and muralist works every day in his atelier, where the walls and easels are decked with eye-catching oil paintings, drawings and sketches in all motifs and sizes.

A prolific artist, Alexander puts on canvas whatever interests him in life: city scenes, landscapes, seascapes, boats on water, portraits and local scenes, as well as trains, still lifes and trompe l’oeil, a style of painting in which objects are depicted with photographically realistic detail.

With an impressive career behind him as a professional artist and art teacher in the United States and England, Alexander has the confidence, curiosity and aptitude to paint everything from summer clouds to racing cars to ripening bananas.

“Realism is a reinventing process, based on empirical observations. As an artist, you have to understand what you are seeing,” he explains.

The realist style of painting and sculpture developed about the mid-19th century and depicts figures or scenes as they are or might be experienced in everyday life, Alexander says.

The artist imbues his paintings with personal interpretation, using photographs merely as a tool, much as he would use a sketchbook. He aims to render his subjects in an eye-opening way in his paintings.

“A good painting brings a heightened sense of awareness,” he says.

Alexander says his role models include John Singer Sargent, an Italian-born U.S. painter and portraitist, as well as Pennsylvanian realist Andrew Wyeth. He also especially appreciates the work of 17th century Dutch masters such as genre painter Jan Vermeer, renowned for his treatment and use of light.

Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, Alexander holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, and a Master of Arts in painting from Long Island University in New York City. After a two-year stay in England, Alexander moved to New Jersey in 1986. Shortly after, he was commissioned to do two mural-sized paintings for GTE Corporation in Tampa, Florida. 

In 1989, Alexander became a project manager for dozens of large murals for the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Florida. He also was a faculty member at the Somerset Art Association in Pluckemin, New Jersey, where he taught portrait painting and drawing, and was selected as the New Jersey artist to produce a painting for the commemorative calendar of the White House bicentennial celebration in 2000. His fine art has been publicly exhibited in New Jersey, New York City and London, England, and also is included in corporate and private collections in Europe and the United States. 

Alexander’s paintings may be viewed and purchased at booths 98 and 99 of the upcoming Arte Hoy International Art Fair, where an estimated 150 artists will display their work Dec. 8 to 12 at Avenida Escazú shopping center in the western San José suburb of Escazú. Atenas-based impressionist-realist painter Alice Constantine (TT, June 5, 2005) will be sharing booths with Alexander.

Samples of Alexander’s work may be viewed at

Comments are closed.