Ever since her first art class at the age of 12, Costa Rican artist Aire has been fascinated by the possibilities of painting. Her work is an amalgamation of everything around her, from the dreams she has to the tarot cards she's been learning to read since she stumbled across the practice in a shop window. She tells Alex Kahl about the inspiration and the thought process behind her symbolism-packed paintings.
At 12 years old, Aire took her first art class with a local artist. “I remember that day perfectly, and I have a really bad memory!” she says. “I remember seeing all the art materials. I was amazed by all the brushes, the easel, the canvas, everything…I couldn't believe that I was actually going to learn how to paint for real. I felt pure joy in my heart that evening, because at that moment life revealed itself to me in a different way. It opened a ‘portal’ into pure magic.”
Aire grew up in a rural town amongst the mountains in San José, Costa Rica. She always felt the place’s distinct calmness and nature was always a big part of her life. “Bright colors, playful moments with animals, trees, green fields, it all influences your personality,” she says. Aire feels that growing up so close to nature made her more connected with her surroundings, and she only realized the extent of this after moving to the busy Buenos Aires more recently. The hustle and bustle of the city can create a constant sensory overload, while the slow pace of life in Costa Rica allowed her to fully ingest and appreciate her surroundings.
Aire’s paintings are filled with striking patterns, plates, cups and wall-hangings. “I mix a lot of the things that surround me, but I don’t even know where some elements in my paintings come from,” she says. “They’re images that appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the painting process, or things I might’ve dreamed of. I like to think my dreams inspire me without me even realizing.”
Aire’s work contains a plethora of curious imagery, from mystical beings to religious iconography, so much so that it’s hard to believe all of her inspiration comes from everyday life, but spirituality is a big part of her understanding of the world. While walking in Buenos Aires five years ago, she noticed a sign in a shop window offering lessons in Marsella Tarot and walked right in. Just like her first art class, this was another moment that Aire felt a portal to a magical world open up.
“After that I started finding tarot cards in random places: in the middle of the street, in vintage bookstores, in bathrooms, everywhere!” she says. The Tarot is a deck of 78 cards, each one emblazoned with an image or a story of some kind. Some cards represent lessons we may need to learn, and others represent life’s situations, the trials and tribulations we might encounter on our journeys.
Tarot cards are largely a tool for spiritual guidance, and reading them is about using your true intuition to select cards, and this connected with Aire. “My intuition is my best friend. I trust her a lot,” she says. ”I use the Tarot as a therapeutic and inspirational tool.”
Look closely and you’ll see tarot symbolism popping up in a lot of Aire’s work. In one piece, a card lays face down on the table in front of a seated woman who looks ready to turn it over. The painting in the background is a spiral-like pattern, a shape that pops up in other paintings. The spirals bring to mind hypnotization, an act that, like tarot, also involves separating from the material, false self.
Many of Aire’s characters sit at tables, as if they’re poised, waiting for something to happen. “The blue-haired woman’s hands resting on the table suggest she is waiting for some sort of manifestation,” Aire says. “The shadow cast over her shows that time is passing, that the night is drawing in and yet still she waits.” In another work, a character kneels on the floor, a fan of tarot cards splayed out in front of her. “Is the green wall just part of some kind of theatre scenery or is it a real wall? What is it protecting or hiding?” Aire asks. “There’s a painting of an open white cup, which seems to be presenting itself, showing its blue light, ready to be fulfilled.” The questions Aire considers about her characters and their surroundings shows her commitment to each story. As someone who’s spent a lot of time exploring and pondering on this almost otherworldly realm of spirituality and self-knowledge, she creates characters who are on a similar path to hers.
Another of Aire’s subjects has leaves sprouting from her skin as if seeds had been planted inside her some time ago. In another, a woman cries as the flowers she holds wilt and die, suggesting an almost telepathic connection between them. “I connect emotions with flowers because they’re both temporary,” she says. “They are both like a moment that cannot last forever.”