Romualdo Costa: Dialogue with an Adventist landscape painter from Uruguay

Born on a farm in the interior of Uruguay, Romualdo Costa learned to love natural landscapes during his childhood. As one of the youngest of 11 siblings, he enjoyed the carefree life outdoors, riding on horseback, fishing in the nearby river, and climbing the wooded hills.

Romualdo’s innate talent for drawing and painting manifested itself early, and, with the encouragement of an art teacher, began to blossom during his adolescence. Soon painting became Costa’s passion, and for decades he has painted almost every day. As a result, he has created more than 15,000 paintings of different sizes and on different surfaces.

In 1972 Costa, now married, moved with his family to Venezuela, where he became a well-known and admired painter. In 1989, seeking new visual experiences and artistic opportunities, he moved with his family to Puerto Rico.

Since 2001, he has resided in the United States, where he continues to paint. “On a day in which I cannot paint, I feel as sad as an owl,” he states. Costa has shown his paintings in more than 100 personal expositions and has served as juror in many art exhibitions. His work is now in private collections in many countries of the world.

Costa is married to Alba Estades, also a painter, and they have three grown sons: Enrique, Robert, and Ronald.

Dialogue visited the artist at his home, surrounded by some of his paintings. He graciously invites us in and we begin our conversation.

How did you become a painter?

I began drawing and painting as a child. When I was 14 years old, in the city of Melo, Uruguay, I walked by a house that had one large window open. Peering inside, I saw several oil paintings hanging on the walls, and for several minutes I just looked at them, transfixed. A few days later, visiting the city again, I saw that the windows of that house were almost closed. So I climbed on the window sill to look in again and noticed that an artist was painting on a canvass. Although the painter asked me to stop staring and move on, I went home convinced that some day I could also become a painter.

What prompted you to devote your life to painting?

First, the sheer pleasure that I derive from painting. Second, as I began decorating tablecloths and small carpets, people began buying them. So when I was 20 I discovered that I could combine my work as a literature evangelist with my artistic endeavors. For a while, I also decorated porcelain at a factory. Eight years later, my paintings provided me with enough income to marry and start a family.

Where do you get ideas for your paintings?

Mostly from observing nature. For that reason I like to travel and visit beautiful sites outdoors. There is so much to see! One notices the shapes, the contrasts of light and shadows, the shifting colors at different times of the day. I also draw inspiration from observing other paintings.

What is your favorite subject?

Nature has fascinated me since my childhood. Everything in it speaks of a Creator God who loves variety, color, and beauty. In landscapes, I like to combine earth, sky, and water, adding trees and flowers. One of the advantages of being a painter is that one has the freedom to create his or her own landscape scene, changing some of the elements to fit the concept one has in mind.

Do you favor a particular paint medium?

For years I used oil; but oil dries slowly, and this requires that the artist take long pauses before using a different color. Besides, in humid climates, oil paintings can get moldy. In addition, oil paints had powerful petroleum and lead components that were quite unhealthy. So I switched to acrylic paints that dry quickly and don’t get moldy.

Under what circumstances did you join the Seventh-day Adventist Church?

My father was a faithful member of the Catholic Church. We had an altar at home, and each night we prayed the rosary. But he also read the Bible to us, although many people thought it was a dangerous book. One night, when I was a teenager, one of my sisters had a striking dream in which she saw two bright lights entering our home through the front door. She woke up frightened and ran to tell my father about the dream. Dad calmed her down and told her to go back to sleep. However, the following morning two Adventist literature evangelists came through that door! For several days they studied the teachings of the Bible with our family. Within a few months, all of us were baptized in the river that ran at the back of our farm. Since we were the only Adventists in the region, the 14 of us began keeping the seventh-day Sabbath and having our own devotionals and worship services at home.

What happened next?

Our family had been quite popular among our neighbors. Many of them enjoyed the fruits and vegetables that we produced and gave them free. But after we became Adventists, their attitude changed drastically. Our relatives and friends withdrew from us and made us the object of scorn. Those were sad days for our family. We were denounced to the police as dangerous people. One of the officers came to our school, took us aside, and asked us questions about our beliefs and worship practices. We told him that we studied the Bible together, sang songs, and prayed directly to God. Our teacher intervened and asked him if it was a crime to read the Bible in a free country. The officer answered that, of course, it was not a crime, and then he left.

Is there a connection between your Christian convictions and your art?

It could not be any closer! I see my painting as a miniature and modest imitation of God’s magnificent creative powers revealed in nature. As I paint, I express my gratitude to Him.

How do you nurture your own spiritual life?

In our family, we follow the “classic” Christian formula. We study the Bible and pray daily; we are active in the local Adventist congregation, and we share our faith with others whenever we have an opportunity. Jesus Christ is at the center of our lives as a trusted friend. And as we receive God’s blessings, we seek to bless others.

Has your art given you occasions to witness for Christ?

Yes, many. People that come to see exhibitions of my work usually ask questions. This gives me a natural opening to speak about my motives, hopes, and convictions. While we lived in Venezuela, the national Congress honored me by granting me citizenship and invited me to exhibit my paintings on the ground floor of their building every year. As senators, congressmen, and staff came to see them, I gave away Bibles to those who showed an interest in spiritual subjects.

As a painter, what gives you the greatest satisfaction?

To see a painting completed! And to see how people enjoy what I have painted. My desire is to convey joy and peace to them. One lady who had bought one of my landscape paintings came to thank me and told me her story. For various reasons, she was suffering from depression and was interned for therapy. She asked that the painting be brought from her home to the room where she was staying and every morning spent time contemplating it. She felt that peace and hope came back to her life, and was soon able to go back home, healed.

Beyond that personal satisfaction, I am thankful that earnings from the sale of my paintings allowed me to provide for my family, educate our sons, sponsor several promising students, and support the Adventist Church’s mission.

Tell us about your wife.

Alba began painting after our marriage and has become a very good painter and a friendly critic of my work. In Venezuela, she won first prize in an international exhibition of women painters. We have shared many years of happiness together.

Any counsel to young people with an inclination toward painting?

Just start painting to develop your skills until you find your own strengths and style. Be willing to learn from others. Do that and your life will become richer and more enjoyable.

If their vocation and talent are strong, they may be able to take up art as their life vocation.

I believe that painting has allowed me to live a long life. God has given each of us a certain artistic ability, be it painting, sculpture, music, design, or creative writing. Our task is to nurture this gift with patient perseverance.

If, by God’s grace, you get to the New Earth, do you see yourself still painting there?

I don’t know. Even in our sinful and imperfect world, we find such beauty that almost overwhelms us. In the Earth made new there will be so much beauty surrounding us that I wonder if we will dare to imitate it with a mere painting. Perhaps God will grant the redeemed other, superior artistic abilities, which we cannot even imagine now. But I am certainly looking forward in hope to the day when Christ will make all things new!

Humberto M. Rasi is the founder and editor-in-chief of Dialogue. Romualdo Costa’s mailing address: 2255 Cahuila, Apt. 51; Colton, California 92324, U.S.A.