San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

National Theater exhibit ‘Luces y sombras’ a journey into the unconscious

If Carl Jung were still alive and decided to stop into the José Luis López Gallery, he would probably spend hours gazing at María Fernanda Piza’s drawings and acrylic paintings, analyzing them for subconscious meaning. Piza’s style is inherently dreamy, like windows into the artist’s REM state. Set against the bistro atmosphere of the National Theater’s Alma de Café, you may find yourself pondering them over a cup of gourmet coffee.

Piza’s series is called “Luces y Sobras” (“Lights and Darks”), but I suggest you ignore the title, because it seems misplaced. Her aesthetic is a mix of surreal images and abstract shapes. The geometry is often angular and overlapping, like a Cubist traffic jam. But look closer and you’ll see a collage of smaller scenes, which blend together mysteriously: A woman in a Victorian gown struts past pillars, leafless branches stretch morosely—and is that a line of ducks?


By María Fernanda Piza.

Lindsay Fendt

Like our dreams, some parts of Piza’s works are lucid and tangible, while others are hazy and cryptic. The scenes have their own logic and private references, and we are doomed to never understand them fully. In short, we have to decide what we’re looking at, just as the psychoanalyst may puzzle out the significance of our nocturnal imaginings. Piza overtly suggests the unconscious in “Ensoñación” (“Reverie”), in which a troubled-looking man peaks his eye through a blanket.

It is impossible not to think of Salvador Dalí, the master of visual weirdness, except that Piza is tamer, quieter, exchanging skulls and melting clocks for clotheslines and trees and ladders. Piza’s worldview is more subdued than Dalí’s, and far friendlier. Indeed, most people would never choose to display Dalí’s disturbing nude portrait, “In Voluptas Mors,” in their den. Yet Piza’s “Cuerpos” is also a group female nude that could agreeably hang anywhere. The bodies in question are pensive women, looking away from us, humble yet unselfconscious. Piza seems to have a healthy grasp of the feminine form, an art-school appreciation for human curvature. All of Piza’s work is similarly inoffensive.

Here is the most welcoming fact of “Luces y Sombras”: They aren’t very big. Size doesn’t matter in art, but these pieces are about the dimensions of your bathroom mirror, which means they are easy to place in a typical house. For that matter, everything about these pieces is fit for a middle class living room – they’re abstract but not confusing, surreal but not repellent, honest but not aggressive. Wherever these pieces end up, they will likely engage generations of houseguests. The portraits will neither shock nor bore, but inspire passersby to ask, Hmm, I wonder what’s going on here?

What would Piza do with a larger canvas? How would these dreams evolve, given more room? As Dalí became more famous, his canvases grew, and so did his vision. At the moment, Piza’s work is just fine. She’s skilled and authentic, and that’s all she needs to be. But with such imagination, Piza deserves some extra dreamscape.

“Luces y Sombres” continues through Dec. 7. José Luis López Gallery, National Theater, San José. Info:

Contact Robert Isenberg at

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