Federico Herrero and the Truthfulness of Colours

by | May 5, 2022

ArtPremium takes you to discover Costan Rican artist Federico Herrero whose colorful patterns on paintings or murals enliven the environment and cross boundaries.

“Open structures in colors could encapsulate Federico Herrero’s body of works. The Costa Rican artist believes in the inclusivity of a language of vibrant shapes and forms. “Creating an openness” for the minds of different backgrounds and to reflect oneself in is the pursuit of his art. It translates in the landscape of a flourishing nature mirroring the spectator’s consciousness.

ArtPremium conversed with Herrero about the questions emerging from his monumental paintings, notably the notion of space in his site-specific works, the influence of Costa Rica, and the spiritual meaning behind his artistic process. 

Your work has taken you to intervene chromatically in the world and incorporate art into public spaces, recurring to muralism through different materials. Why did you choose to use the colors you show in your work?

Herrero “I connect a lot with the notion of color. In my case, I try to move away from a certain propagandistic or marketing notion, I rather think about color in terms of energies and in terms of connection with sound. For me, color can also relate to a certain aspect of our nature that is more about poetry and musicality. How we connect with the world.” 

Federico Herrero

Beso, 2019 – Oil & acrylic on canvas – 126″ x 165 3/8 ” – 320 x 420 cm
Courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York

Our modern use of communication through the manipulation of colors implies a constant activation of our emotions and feelings. Yet as we are surrounded by their overused symbolism in our daily life, we fail to question the very notion of colors remote from advertising and psychology. Herrero’s artworks help to rejuvenate their primary meaning and nature, as the idea of the “very impression of life” has a similar simplicity to beauty arousing in the natural world. Herrero perceives those energies flow in the artistic process and feels the presence of every artifact and inanimate objects of our world. 

As well as clouds can form shapes in the observation of the sky, the artist uses the vividness of its chromatic painting to form a visual sign language. Although not deprived of a political aspect, it is rather evoking what can be meaningful in the observation of an urban environment, a museum, a room, or a wall. 


Open Alphabet Installation
Courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York

Your work has been described as having a musical property, and most importantly perhaps as being a visual vocabulary. What does “telepathic painting” stands for in your work?

It’s an idea that relates to the notion of color and painting jumping from place to place. I see it as a way of observation also, in the way that when you start noticing something, in the way gradually it starts to appear in the space more and more. For me, there is this notion of interconnection or interconnectivity, with what you are looking for and how things start to come up in the space. It is of course a metaphor, of how we understand space and a metaphor of sometimes how what we have in our mind is also projected into space as well.”

The artist expands on the concept of meaning interconnection in his synesthetic prism, connecting vision with sound, volume, and musicality, mental thinking, and being physically present in the space while experiencing energies flowing and reverie. Federico Herrero considers the open structure of meaning as the openness and unfixed of the interpretations. The pigments, jumping from place to place, become the projection and mirror of one’s thoughts and life experiences. His colorful arrangements of geometrical forms function thus as endless openings on other dimensions.

The richness of his joyful pastel color language stems from the engaging interaction with the viewers, the space architecture, the country’s particular culture. Unconscious references we possess manifest in the way the spectator enjoys the freedom of interaction in his art. His work Mapamundi in 2003 in Havana inside a swimming pool was directed towards children to liberate a playful yet mature feeling of  “flying freely in the world” and made them look at the world from another perspective.

His immersive work expands our way of seeing and colors add depth to urban structures. The expansion relies on the space possibilities free from the intrinsic restrictive constraints of the canvas and the frame. By unifying the dimensional space and interconnecting disconnected areas or places, his paintings create renewed interaction and awareness.


Untitled, 2018 – Oil, acrylic on canvas – 65″ x 59″ – 165 x 150 cm –
Courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York

Your paintings involve the movement of the viewer, as it’s taking over streets, museum architectures. How do you take into account in your work in situ the urban environment of the cities where you exhibit?

“I think that when I go to site-specific intervention or work, the main aspect for me is to be physically present in the space. From there, it is somehow to be open for changes to appear, to be affected by the environment, and sometimes it has to do with the culture of the place, or with the people I’m working with immediately. It has to do with the context – political context sometimes.  It is something about creating landscapes inside of another landscape, to create spaces within spaces. It is not so much about building something pre-done or preconceived and placing it in a kind of a violent way, but about creating a certain understanding of the context.”

The experience of creating the artwork is thus what generates the powerful social value of his art, be it towards communities with site-specific intervention or when the work emerges from unconventional surfaces like streets grounds, buildings, corners, ceilings, and windows. Transformed in illuminated landscapes, the gray architectures or the monochromatic minimalism of museums rooms become something radically different, as materially alive as the lively flora and fauna of Herrero‘s tropical birthplace in San José. The painting thus activates a certain perception and allows us to see beyond what is immediately visible in the space.

How did Costa Rica have an impact on your work? And would you please comment on the positioning of Costa Rica into the contemporary art market? 

“I think in my personal case it had a huge impact. At some point when I started my work, I chose to come back to Costa Rica and do my practice here: in a way it became a force for me and for my work.As an artist, it is something about the structure and the balance between urban structure and nature that I really love. It is the structure that I apply to the work as well. When I am doing the painting, the way the picture is developed is very certainly close to what I see in the environment, which is a kind of self-constructed image.


Where I am from in Costa Rica the structure of the contemporary art world in a way is very good because there are a lot of good institutions and a really good amount of artists. We don’t have many collectors and there is a certain frustration for local artists who do the work even though they are not a lot of people buying contemporary art locally. It might change but I am very lucky to work with galleries internationally. This became a very important aspect for me, to be able to stay here while not having to deal with the lack of collectors to support the work.


Installation view, 21st Century
Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan, 2011 – Courtesy of the artist

Federico Herrero is constantly in search of evolution in his artistic process so as to find a new language to express in his work. Today his internal ambition “to impress [him]self” drives him to grow as an artist as well as the direct observation of the urban structure in Costa Rica where he lives. His Alphabet project was presented through worldwide collaborations with museums and with the help of galleries such as James Cohan Gallery in New York, Sies + Höke Galerie in Düsseldorf, and Galeria Luisa Strina in Sao Paulo. His other solo shows and next projects in 2020 will be concentrated in Latin America at the Pivô art center and in his native San José (Museo Nacional de Costa Rica).