San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Artist trades computer for canvas, city for beach

If you’ve ever held a stressful office job, you know how tempting it can sometimes be to just drop everything and make a mad dash for the beach. Five years ago, local Guanacaste artist Oscar Líos did just that.

After two and a half decades as a graphic designer in San José, Líos finally reached his breaking point in 2006.

“I felt like my life was divided between my workplace and my house,” he said. “I could never do what I wanted to do. I needed permission from my job to do everything: to go shopping, to go to the doctor, to even step outside and see the sun during the day. And I was under a lot of stress.”

But it wasn’t always that way. Since early childhood, Líos had always exhibited an interest in the arts. The only child of a single mother, he remembers growing up with the smells of oil pigment and the sounds of the guitar wafting through the air of their home in San José; his uncle, Quincho Líos, was a successful artist and musician in the area.

Oscar Lios 2

Líos’ “La Despedida.” Courtesy of Oscar Lios

While Uncle Quincho never could quite muster up the patience to sit down and teach his nephew how to paint, he nevertheless served as a positive creative influence in the boy’s life. Líos went on to develop a passion for drawing, spending every waking moment scribbling and sketching with pencils and charcoal. Later, as a young adult, he studied graphic design at the University of Costa Rica. Seduced by the idea of a lucrative, fast-paced career, he eventually opted to pursue a corporate avenue rather than one dedicated to art for the sake of art.

Degree in hand, Líos went on to get several jobs at various design firms in the country. At the height of his career, after 25 years in the business, Líos took a long, hard look at his life and realized he was unhappy, and had been for a while. With each passing day, his personal goals and projects were becoming more and more of a distant memory.

It was time for a change.

Líos abruptly dropped everything and moved to the northwestern province of Guanacaste, just 10 minutes from the beach, where he formed the music group Yerba Buena – a band that quickly made a name for itself in the Papagayo area for its acoustic and organic sound. Often compared to the Gypsy Kings, Yerba Buena uses predominantly guitar, percussion and vocals to put a unique spin on popular cover songs.

Whenever he wasn’t playing, Líos was painting. Through much trial and error and with no formal training, he gradually taught himself the technicalities of painting, and quickly realized he had an innate ability. Using little more than raw talent – combined with experience working in layers in the software application Photoshop – he produced his first oil depiction on canvas using subtle color changes and soft lines to portray realistic, poignant figures.

Shadows of the masters that most influenced Líos – including Rivera, Velázquez and Rembrandt – are evident in most of his works.

“I like the way these artists interpret light and shadow. … I like paintings that accurately reflect reality, but without falling into hyperrealism,” he said, describing his own style as “figurative, evocative, suggestive, sensual.”

While Líos’ portfolio includes portraits and landscapes, his favorite themes are nudes, and exclusively female ones. “Women are music and painting, sensibility and passion, delicacy and strength, winter and summer, sun and moon,” he said.

Líos’ paintings are currently on display in a semipermanent exhibit at the Hidden Garden Art Gallery in Liberia, Guanacaste’s capital. Líos may be contacted at, or visit his Facebook page at

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