Juan Manuel Delgado Méndez was born in San José, Costa Rica in August 1987, but when he was just two years old his family moved to Canada, where he remained until 2010. From a very early age he has had a fascination with examining how the world looks and feels with his eyes and hands, and through this constant observation of distances and details, he began to sketch and draw his experiences as a way of understanding the material world. This constant duality between observation and drawing pushed him to pursue further studies of art, in order to reach a greater perfection in his work, with Peter Scwartzman, Russian Architect and Visual Artist, studying and developing the techniques of pencil drawing, charcoal, pastel, colour pencils, watercolour and oil painting, all within a realistic framework. With all of his interest with drawing and grand imaginative state, he decided to study architecture at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, where he graduated with Distinction in 2010. On his return to Costa Rica, he began to paint within the genre of hyper-realism. Juan has been working intensively in the production of his works under the supervision of the Costa Rican Master Artist Painter Gonzalo Morales Sáurez.

“I can assure Juan Manuel a great future as an artist painter, but only he can decide if he continues in this difficult discipline. Costa Rica would be very grateful for it and also us as admirers of his great paintings.” ~Gonzalo Morales Sáurez

Why art? Why painting? Why not something else?

Art is a language; it is a way of communicating to the world. Even before we learn how to speak, we use observation as a way of understanding the material world. Studying under Peter Schwartzman, Russian Architect and Visual Artist, his house was literally a museum, filled with paintings hanging on every wall. Still relatively young, I was fascinated by how much these paintings caught my attention. I guess that was an important moment in my life, where I knew that I would become a painter, although prior to that day, I had never touched a brush, mostly focusing on drawing. Architecture, sculpture and painting where believed to have been studied in juxtaposition with each other during certain moments in history. Beginning to read especially the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, I was captivated by his vast amount of knowledge in various fields of study. Perhaps this motivated me to study architecture. I believe that studying architecture really helped me to visualize space, composition and scale which are important factors involved in the process of painting. I cannot imagine doing anything else. I think in life one must follow their passion and continue learning to get better.

What emotions do you feel when you paint? Do you ever get frustrated or dissatisfied with your skills and work?

The beauty about painting is seeing the evolution of the work from the beginning to the end. From preparing the canvas, to the sound of the first pencil or charcoal mark, to the first brush strokes until one continues to built on the layers and finally has the finished piece. One is literally encompassed in their own daydream. It is an isolation of beauty and calmness as the mind interacts with the hand to produce something that looks like reality.

It is such a fun process to paint as a way of documenting my journey in this world. I try to find a relationship between the person I am painting with the way I am feeling at that moment. If I am in a contemplative or poignant state, I try to represent that within the painting. Since I am still learning from every work that I do, I do not feel a sense of dissatisfaction since I know that I am improving.

I am really drawn to something Leonardo da Vinci said in his notebooks about painting, “though you may be able to tell or write the exact descriptions of forms, the painter can so depict them that they will appear alive, with the shadow and light which show the expression of a face; which you cannot accomplish with the pen though it can be achieved by the brush.” This is what I attempt to strive for, I want the spectator of the finished painting to really feel the emotion and tactility of the person, as if in conversation with them.

Juan M Delgado with Hyperrealist Painter Gonzalo MoralesSáurez

Are you the only one artistic in your family?

I am not the only artistic member in my family. My father, Rodrigo Delgado, is an extraordinary interpreter of the flamenco guitar. He has performed as a soloist for many years at a National and International level, and has won multiple honours and awards for his virtuosity. My fatherstudied Flamenco in the United States and Spain with Juan Serrano, Sabicas and Antonio Pérez ‘El Pucherete’.

My maternal grandmother, Orquídea Fraguela de Méndez, was an avid painter, focusing on depicting traditional Costa Rican architecture (from a typical one story house, la Iglesia de San José de Orosí the oldest church in Costa Rica located in the province of Cartago, as well as painting still-lives of flowers).

I also studied piano from an early age, winning numerous competitions at a National level. My family is also very athletic, where my mother, Ileana Méndez, who has always been an athlete her entire life, always made sports a priority in our family. My fraternal twin brother was a high-competitive gymnast training with the National Team in Canada with a vast amount of accomplishments and awards throughout his career both Nationally and Internationally. I received my black sash in Kung Fu in 2002. I also played soccer provincially, volleyball and basketball for the school team, until I decided to focus on tennis, where I trained at the National Tennis Academy at the Ottawa Athletic Club. I still continue to train and compete at a National level here in Costa Rica.

How old were you when you understood you wanted to paint?

My first initial awakening occurred as mentioned earlier in the house of my teacher, Peter Schwartzman, a few years prior to commencing my studies in University. Upon arriving to San José, Costa Rica after completing my Bachelor’s Degree in architecture, that is when I decided consciously that now is the time to focus on painting full time.

You know, when one decides to follow their passion, many things change around them; there is a price that needs to be paid if they choose to live life as they have envisioned. Thus, tell me how hard are you willing to work so you could live from it, so you could pay for your daily piece of bread?

I ask myself, what does it mean to be an artist? During my initial exploratory moments, where I started to learn how to mix and apply the paint onto the canvas, these were simply opportunities for learning and enjoyment of the craft, which to this day is a continuous process. Still being a young artist, I ask myself how can my artistic success be measured? I choose to paint because it is a part of me. I cannot envision myself doing anything else. I chose this career for the love of producing art and not thinking about who is going to purchase each and every painting I do. I prefer to think of myself as an artist who is constantly learning and improving. Every artist needs to be able to explore, to dream and to experience emotions.

Do you experience moments when you feel empty, too tired to do anything else and want just to take some rest and switch off from everything else? If yes, how do you deal with those moments?

First of all, painting in my studio becomes a state of isolation from the world. It is a moment where I am completely enthralled by my own thoughts without any interruptions. Time literally slows down. I learn a lot about myself, my character as my imagination and eagerness to learn encompass my ambiance.

I also enjoy reading about the lives of the great masters from the past: Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Velázquez, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and many more. Learning about their struggles, misbehaviour, moments of success as well as learning their techniques… This always helps me to recharge my mind.

For me it is important to get away from the studio and let the painting sit, so that one can always have that fresh eye as if seeing the painting for the first time. Beginning a painting is always such a rewarding experience; the difficult part is how to decide when it is truly finished. That is why switching myself off and doing something else can really motivate me as I enter my studio to continue working on the long process of painting.

What is the main source of your inspiration? What or who inspires you, Juan?

I had a professor in architecture say once that inspiration is like a light bulb, it turns on and off, but when it does turn on, no matter if early in the morning or late at night, one must take advantage. I think this is true, since there are always certain periods or times when one feels more inspired to work than others.

Juan M Delgado with Master Artist Lola Fernandez

Perhaps my greatest source of inspiration comes from having the privilege of meeting with many of the great master artists here in Costa Rica, including Lola Fernández, Gonzalo Morales, Rafa Fernández, Felo García, and José Sancho. I have learned a lot from them, their lives and immense amount of knowledge in their respected fields. All of them have said great things about me, which I greatly appreciate and believe very strongly in my ability to become a great artist both Nationally and Internationally. Every time I have the opportunity of visiting one of these artists in their studio, I come home to my studio filled with energy of inspiration to work harder and get better.

From what I read, you seem to be quite busy with your life, especially knowing how much time can be taken on the creative side alone. What is your usual day, Juan? Do you like being spontaneous?

I love to be as spontaneous as I can. That breaks the monotony of having a daily routine. First of all, I try to exercise everyday be it play tennis or go to the gym as a way of clearing my mind and preparing myself for the day ahead.

I am usually wandering the streets of San José trying to discover if anything or anyone catches my attention for a possible painting. That mystery of not knowing whom the model for the next painting is going to be makes the whole process more entertaining.

One day I may have to buy materials, get the canvas stretched, prepare the canvas for painting, produce a series of sketches for the composition of the painting or do some drawings to further understand the anatomy of the person being depicted. Everyday has a different atmosphere, which makes the experience of painting more enjoyable.

When you started pursuing the path as a painter, did the outer world support you or were there people or someone saying that you were wasting your energy?

Most of the initial comments were negative towards me about pursuing my artistic career. However, I am glad to say that I have always had plenty of support from my family and friends.

Being an artist involves dealing with constant ambiguity. There always lies a huge competition between artists trying to obtain position spaces for exhibitions or to be recognized Internationally, and because art is subjective, everyone has diverse opinions on what they like and dislike. I believe one has to always be positive, maintaining certain goals in their mind; continuing to learn and improve and that will show in their work.

Please tell me the story behind those two paintings of yours: Tonal study drawing, life-sized, for a painting and a portrait of your friend, architect Leo Marti. 

Well, the drawing is of my friend Camila, where I chose to portray her in a form where she is in a state of contemplation. By doing a tonal drawing it allowed me to capture the beauty in her expression through contrasting lights and darks, which I believe result in drawings which are more expressive and emotional. I want the viewer of this drawing to really imagine entering into her daydream, where a silence emerges as she sits uninterrupted by the sounds of the world around her. This drawing also allowed me to understand the composition of her facial expression where I can now begin to paint her completely on the canvas.

The portrait of my friend, architect Leo Marti is painted in a form where he is praying in complete solitude. I wanted everyone to imagine themselves thinking quietly with their own psyche about what they aspire to achieve, since everyone has a dream that they hope to realize no matter what age. And when one is thinking alone, listening to their inner voice, it gives us a better understanding about who we are as well as a chance to understand the world around us.

Why do you think in life so many people tend to try to discourage a person who dares and chooses to pursue their dreams?

The undertaking of disregarding those individuals who are discouraging us from continuing to pursue our dreams can be a daunting task. Many people have deserted or were unsuccessful in achieving their dreams and perhaps this could be a reason to discourage someone to not experience the same frustration and suffering as they did. These people should help push us more knowing the difficulty of the road ahead and can inspire us to keep the passion alive, learning from their past experiences. Everyone with an objective in their mind has to have the patience and courage to continue believing. Furthermore, we always need the help and support of others in the process of achieving our goals, as well as seeing others accomplish their dreams can really inspire us to do the same.

If you had the opportunity to paint anyone in the world, who would it be and why?

This is a really interesting question. As mentioned earlier, to paint people spontaneously really adds to the surprise of the unknown. A painting absolutely needs to tell a story, to reveal something of the person, for one to be in constant communication with them and to feel their presence. The more you get to know that person, the more the painting will result in obtaining an emotional and expressive feeling. I think for me I would really enjoy painting those individuals who are an inspiration to me as discussed previously.

Is there any particular artist that you would like to meet?

There are so many great and amazing artists I would love to have the opportunity to meet and learn from all around the world. If I were to name one it would have to be Antonio López García. He is such an incredible person; he is extremely humble, which I greatly respect. I remember watching a movie made by him called ‘El Sol del Membrillo’ where we are able to take part in the fantastical working techniques and thinking process of a true master. The form in which he prepares his canvas, to the way he positions himself to stand on the ground by placing nails on the floor to maintain the same exact position to paint the quince tree, these are mannerisms of the artist that unless witnessed one would never know. I really felt as if I was there in communication with him as he painted, it was a rare chance of entering the mind of a genius.

Still being a young artist, where do you see art going in the future for the younger generations?

Juan M Delgado with Jose Sancho, Costa Rican Sculptor

Every child has such an incredible imagination that they are all artists. The difficulty is to preserve that creativity. Because art is a language it speaks to us visually. We should think about art more in terms of the process of creating which is an experience that only the maker can cherish. Art offers a chance for one to express their thoughts and feelings, improve their analytical thinking, and to get in touch with their soul. I would like to see the younger generations, like me, given more of an opportunity to learn and grow as artists.

What would you like to wish for all the artists of the world for this New Year?

I would like to wish all of the artists around the world a happy and prosperous New Year and that this becomes the year where everyone’s dreams come true!

The anxiety of a young child reaching for the paint brush
while his father is teaching him the art of painting

Copyright © Jolita Kelias 2013
All Rights Reserved

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