His art, his persistence, his belief in the unseen, his determination of following his dream and passion leave unforgettable footprints in the hearts of others. He paints people so as to reveal their inner beauty to the world, so as to immortalize one magical timeless moment, so as to put his heart into expression of life itself. This is the follow-up interview with the Costa Rican painter Juan Manuel Delgado. I find him fascinating, inspiring, enthralling… His humble outlook on life and yet incredibly determine choices that he makes based on his self-belief makes me respect and admire this young aspiring artist. He takes only Yes for an answer and any other option is out of the question. Juan believes that we must help each other as life at times can be very difficult. He strives, he grows, he moves forward and trusts that there is a reason for everything. Through his art he searches for the answers to his most personal questions, and step by step he seems to being able to put the puzzle of his life all together.
Portrait pictures of Juan Manuel Delgado were taken by the young, aspiring Costa Rican artist Mariela Vilcor.
It has been a year since our last conversation and I see that many things have been happening in your life. How are you, Juan?
This past year has been incredible. I feel truly blessed to have had such great opportunities to paint some extraordinary people. Three paintings really summarize my year. First, I got to travel to Houston, Texas, at the end of May, to present a painting I did of my hero, Dr. Franklin Chang-Díaz, a Costa Rican-American mechanical engineer, physicist and former NASA astronaut. Second, early August, I had the great honour in presenting a portrait painting I did to the President of the Republic of Costa Rica, Mrs. Laura Chinchilla Miranda. Lastly, I travelled to Rome early in October, where I had the great privilege in presenting a portrait I did to His Holiness, Pope Francis during a General Audience at St. Peter’s Square.
I feel like you have to take that risk and go against those stereotypical expectations bestowed upon us about how we should live our lives. It is always difficult to surpass the feeling of fear, of the unknown. However, once you are living in that dream that you have worked so hard for, even for the slightest second, it makes everything you have sacrificed for well worth it. For me, the desire to improve and learn is what drives me so strongly.
You painted portraits of people who are very significant in the way they lead their lives and live. What does it teach you?
Having had the great honour in painting these portraits of these three extraordinary people have deepened my understanding of how each of them have given their lives to improve the lives of others, in their respected countries and in the world. When painting a portrait, I feel that it is not only about capturing a resemblance in a person, but offering a form of communication between the spectator and the finished painting. The spectator viewing the work of art should feel as if that person is really in front of them and that is when a dialogue becomes apparent between the two. That is something that I feel when I am painting a portrait. And in painting these three very well respected people, only created for me, a more inspiring conversation to transpire.
Success usually associates with positive things. How do you look into the world of failure? What do you consider failure to be?
All artists enter into the obscurity of disappointment. But I think that when failure comes knocking on our door, the easy way out is to give up and avoid it, since it is not something easy to deal with. We need to then ask ourselves, why did I fail? Was it because I did not do my best? Failing for many may be considered holding accountable our own fate, that it was not something I did wrong, but something provoked by a third party. To make you a stronger person and a better artist, one has to feel that rejection, that failure to push you harder to achieve your dreams. For me, failure is never having tried. Nothing comes easy, and of course, to be successful, you have to have lived what it feels like to be unsuccessful.
The President of Costa Rica, Mrs. Laura Chinchilla Miranda
We are our own critics and at times very harsh ones. What kind of talk do you have with yourself when you feel you are not performing your best in life and the things that you do or want to accomplish?
It is very true, that we are our own worst critics. We will always have an inner dialogue when we are left contemplating our own actions. The important thing is when we listen to our own self-criticism, not to begin to compare ourselves to other people, because that will only put us down emotionally. We all have a certain gift or talent that makes each and every one of us unique and for that reason; we should not have to be comparing ourselves to others, unless we are seeing other people’s success as a form of inspiration. But at the same time, having this inner voice is not something to anguish about. It is there to help us improve. Every time I am going to work on a painting, it is because I am going to give it my all. If for some reason I feel unmotivated or tired, I will not work as many hours that day because I know I won’t be giving my best effort. I always try and visualize the future, telling myself that I believe in what I am doing, and setting realistic goals that I feel I can accomplish.
Dr. Franklin Chang-Díaz and Juan Manuel Delgado
Please share a bit about your journeys to meet people that you painted?
In the case of these three very significant paintings I did this year, I will talk a little bit about my encounters with them, which is something more personal. First I will start with the painting of Dr. Franklin Chang-Díaz. I had presented the painting to him personally in his offices, Ad Astra Rocket Company, in Houston, Texas. He is someone that I have always admired. He was always fascinated by space exploration, and he did everything possible to accomplish his dreams to go into space and become an astronaut. After presenting him with my painting, he very generously allowed me one hour to speak with him in private in his office. This was such a huge honour for me as he is extremely humble and very inspiring to speak to. He first talked about his life, all of the struggles and sacrifices he had gone through in order to accomplish all of his goals. He told me to always believe in what I am doing, to have faith that there will always be one person in the world that will open the doors for me and to never stop dreaming. I then shared with him about my life, struggles and dreams. I left feeling extremely inspired! My next painting was a portrait of the President of the Republic of Costa Rica, Mrs. Laura Chinchilla. This was initiated by having a lot of patience since the President is someone who is extremely busy. The day I was waiting outside of her office at the Presidential House, I felt very proud to be able to present this portrait personally to the her. As I walked into her office, she gave me a firm handshake, smiled and thanked me for this work of art I had done for her. We then sat down, and talked for about 30 minutes. At that point, I mentioned the difficulties of being a young artist in Costa Rica, although I never once stopped dreaming about achieving everything I believed in. She was very modest and kind in telling me that she felt very happy for having people like me in the country that are young and creative and are an inspiration to the younger generations. I left her office with great gratification of having painted the first female President in the history of our country. Lastly, the portrait of His Holiness, Pope Francis. The reason I wanted to paint his portrait, was not only being a faithful believer and follower of the Roman Catholic Church, but for his simplicity and grand gestures of humbleness, as a source of inspiration to the world to try to imitate, not only to improve our own lives, but to improve the lives of others. As a young realist artist, I know he has inspired me to always fight and believe in my goals. That special day had arrived, and as I was waiting to present my portrait during the General Audience at St. Peter’s Square, I was one of the last people on stage to greet the Pope. The first thing I said to him was, “my name is Juan Manuel Delgado, I am a young artist, I came from Costa Rica to present to you this portrait I did with all my heart, love and admiration for you.” He then looked down at the portrait for several seconds in complete amazement! At that time, he smiled, looked me directly in my eyes and said, “Thank you very much, you are from Costa Rica very nice.” Then he extended his hand, gave me a very friendly handshake and I said to him, “Please bless and pray for my whole family and for everyone in Costa Rica and always bless me with the strength to always believe in my dreams.” At that moment still holding his hand, he brought me closer and gave me a hug. I was in utter shock and amazement, something I never would have expected. I felt the greatest sensation of peace that I had ever felt in my entire life. He then bowed his head thanking me for my gift and passed to the next person in line.
The President of Costa Rica, Mrs. Laura Chinchilla Miranda
What was the greatest challenge for you?
The greatest challenge for me was having to deal with the lack of faith during this whole process, especially in the early stages of my artistic career. Even when I had these ideas to paint these three individuals that I truly admire, many people were very discouraging in telling me that it was impossible. However, I never stopped to believe in my dreams and I am very happy to have fought through all the negativity to achieve what I always believed in my heart was possible.
What other ideas do you have for the next year? Who will you be painting this time?
For next year I plan on making several collections of paintings. First, to make a series of religious figures that are iconic to the Costa Rican culture. In addition, another series which would be interesting would be of people based on the coastal provinces of Costa Rica (Puntarenas, Guanacaste, Limón) and including indigenous areas. The idea is to make several paintings based on these provinces to capture the strong cultural identity of Costa Rica. I also hope to participate in several collective exhibitions internationally.
You paint people who do not know you but whom you admire. Tell me how it feels going through this journey of self-motivation, demolishing doubt and frustration, at times enduring moments of painful patience and your self talk, where one says Yes and the other one No?
First of all, you have to be very selective on who you would like to paint and for what reasons. The hardest part and at times, the most enduring one is in making the initial contact with that particular person. But again, it goes back to always believing that the possibility exists to paint them. This requires a lot of self-talk and motivation to maintain positive about your objectives.
By doing what you are doing what do you gain from it?
If it was not for following my dreams of being an artist, I definitely would have not been able to experience such great moments in my life. You do not always gain [everything] that you would like to, but by being patient and working hard, I feel very happy and proud with my progression in my artistic career!
What is the ultimate aim for you regarding arts?
The ultimate aim for me is to continue growing as an artist and to share with the world what I love to do!
Juan M Delgado’s cousin Tati
Your paintings put others on the map of eternity, of history and it also loudly speaks about you and your aspirations, your love for life. Why do you paint people? Why not animals or nature or fruits and flowers, or buildings or empty fields,…?
That is exactly correct! When painting a certain person, I am searching to capture a moment in time, capturing a meaningful expression in the subject that tells their story, forming a balance between resemblance and craft. This then becomes my interpretation of the human figure in its purest form, where I am attempting to provoke a sense of movement and life emanating underneath the many layers of the painting. The most interesting aspect about painting the human figure is having that connection with the person and leaving traces of time and memory in the finished work.
Your ideas, your paintings, your love and belief in people and their goodness, your works and you travel around the world settle in the hearts of others. How does it make you feel knowing that you are leaving beautiful footprints in the hearts of people you admire and look up to?
The greatest feeling is leaving behind a lasting memory, an eternal mark…a footprint for those that I admire to cherish. A painting is designed to capture not only a likeness in the person but many feelings provoked during that moment in time. Different types of memories are triggered from viewing a painting. A haptic memory by the tactility of the skin where one can feel that sense of touch, an iconic memory by how the person in the painting is perceived as a form of remembrance to how they looked; and a sense of echoic memory created by the constant communication between the spectator and the work of art, almost as if one can hear their everlasting voice.
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