As an art form, muralism functions in a very different way from paintings done on canvas. César Valverde, Costa Rica’s most prominent muralist, recognized the mural’s unique role in public life. He often spoke of the ways in which his large-scale works of art reached out to a broad spectrum of viewers. His murals hang in several of the country’s important government buildings and universities.
Born in the late 1920s, César Valverde studied art at the University of Costa Rica and later became a professor at that same university and a director of its art department. He also studied art in Italy and France and was very involved in European cultural and artistic movements. He served as Costa Rica’s Vice-Minister of Culture in the early 1980s and received several important awards for his art. Although he painted canvases and smaller works, César Valverde is now best known for his large-scale works in places like Costa Rica’s National Assembly building (Asamblea Legislativa), its Department of Comptrollership (Contraloría) and the Universidad Autónoma de Centro América.
In a 1990 interview on a local Costa Rican television station, Valverde described murals as true “art of the people.” Because they hang in public places, he said, murals should not make intellectual statements and should, instead, speak directly to their viewers. Valverde believed that mural viewers should feel a kind of collective ownership of the art. An ordinary person should look at a mural and think, “This is mine.” He pointed out, too, that successful murals engage in a dialogue with the architecture of the spaces in which they hang. He said that, in muralism, architecture and painting join together to form one single work of art.
One of the most distinctive characteristics of all of Valverde’s work is his use of color. Oscar Bakit, a Costa Rican artist, argues that Valverde’s vivid color palette is his own personal “invention”: a César Valverde work is unmistakable because of its brilliant oranges, yellows and turquoises.
Just as Valverde used several signature paint colors, several images frequently recur in his art. He often painted very similar women, figures some describe as female archetypes. These women often stand against backgrounds of small houses or among tropical fruits and vegetables.
César Valverde described his own work as “full of optimism, full of life,” and he thought of his art as a visual representation of Costa Rica’s most important values. The Costa Rican national post office commemorated his life and work with a limited-edition postage stamp of his art. César Valverde died in 1998.
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Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.