Costa Rica native Elisa Morera Benn of Omaha has been
making art infused with the colors and passions of her
tropical Central American homeland since childhood.
“All my life my surroundings have been full of contrasts.
Shades of green, red, orange, a whole range of intensities
and feelings. It is impossible to separate artists from their
visual and emotional environment,” she said.
She’s one of four siblings born to a customs-agent father
and stay-at-home mother.
“My father worked hard to give his children a private
education. He later managed to open his own business.”
Benn studied with masters. Each gave her something that
helped her grow as an artist.
“With Francisco Alvarado Avella, I learned the eroticism
that always covered his paintings. With Soraya
Goicoechea, the realism of the portrait. With Max Rojas,
the use of expressionism. With Isabel Naranjo, realism.
With Rodolfo Rocha, I learned how to mix all these
Her work is shown internationally at the Louvre Museum in
Paris and at galleries and museums in Fabriano, Italy,
Juarez, Mexico, Toronto and Houston.
Since moving to America with her husband, Dr. Douglas
Benn, an adjunct professor at the Creighton University
School of Dentistry, she’s consistently shown her work in
Nebraska. She recently exhibited at the Artists
Cooperative Gallery in the Old Market. She has work at
the Burkholder Project in Lincoln. She’ll show some pieces
at her studio during the Hot Shops open house in
She and her husband reside near downtown in a home
accented by her art and by artwork they’ve collected. The
couple met five years ago in Costa Rica when he visited
there. They married three years ago.
Benn was no stranger to America, where she traveled on
school vacations and visited an aunt in Florida.
“Once I moved here, I fell in love with Omaha, which is full
As a girl in Costa Rica, she had her talent affirmed by a
school teacher and a newly arrived classmate from Cuba.
“All my life I have painted and drawn,” said Benn, who
found her voice in art.
“My formal studies were in architecture but I didn’t finish.
But always the drawing was in my blood,”
Like any artist, she finds inspiration in many sources. The
works of Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt and his
use of gold-leaf foil are particularly influential.
“Klimt’s symbolism seems extraordinary to me – the way
he uses symbolism and geometric patterns, which I
always use in my work.”
Expressionism best describes her style, though she
incorporates elements of surrealism as well.
“We live in anxiety about humanity’s increasingly
discordant relationship with the world and accompanying
lost feelings of authenticity and spirituality. I am an
expressionist and as such support the rebellion to be free
from academic restrictions. I want to be free in the way I
The style fits her temperament and vision.
“These techniques were meant to convey the emotional
state of my feelings and my art reacting to the anxieties of
the modern world with all the problems of this particular
period of time. This style allows me to have that freedom
“True art always causes an emotion in the spectator.
When I succeed in transmitting the feeling I want to reflect
in my painting to the viewer, then I feel I have achieved my
She often deals with women’s emotional states in her
“Capturing the emotions and feelings reflected in a face is
a challenge. I achieve feeling THROUGH a painting.
Reflecting the model’s expression of joy, sadness,
excitement, sensuality, for me is a challenge that I like.”
When dealing with women’s subjects she uses eroticism to
capture mood and atmosphere.
“Why not? These feelings are part of human beings.”
After all, she said, seduction and mysticism are well
known ways to captivate viewers.
“There are many ways to convey eroticism,” she said. “All
of Georgia O’Keefe’s work is wrapped in eroticism and
sensuality in a very subliminal way. Then there are the
very criticized erotic drawings of (Gustave) Courbet’s
realism, which is not my message, nor my style. I prefer
the model of the painting have the expression and leave
the rest to the imagination.”
Benn’s imagination sometimes supplies the human figures
in her work. Other times she works from live models.
“The imaginary models are easier to work with. When one
makes a painting of a live model, more is known by friends
and family, so the level of accuracy has to be higher, which
is more difficult. Normally everyone has a mental image of
how we see ourselves, so to satisfy the model and also
make the painting in your style, it’s quite a challenge.”
She makes her paintings on wood and enjoys the texture
the surface gives her work.
“I really like how the lines of wood are mixed inside the
face of my paintings. When I paint on canvas, the
backgrounds go with the personality of the models. For
example, I painted a friend who is a metal sculptor, so her
surroundings have to be where she was born here in the
USA and what she does.”
Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.