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Jim Theologos: Art weaves with timeless love
by Liz Baudler

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In the 1970s Costa Rica-based artist Jim Theologos lived in New York, where he'd been born and raised.

He toiled away as a professional photographer, increasingly burnt out by living out of a suitcase. The opportunity to start over in Costa Rica ( a place he'd visited in the course of his work ) appealed to him, even though it meant leaving behind a budding relationship with a young playwright and actor named Milo Salazar. The two had met through friends in New York, and had initially found themselves curious about each other's medium.

"I personally believe that communication is the key point of the arts. You can't take a picture without somebody looking at it. You do not write poetry for yourself. You write for somebody else to hear it. So consequently an artist is generally focused on one form of communication but he is also attuned to all the rest of them. [Milo] had his art form, I had mine, and they overlap," Theologos said.

In Costa Rica, Theologos worked hard to make his art and photography career take off. Though he had clear talent, he found the social and art world of Latin America had to crack. Strategically, Theologos focused on photographing and sketching well-connected figures in Costa Rica, and soon it paid off. He bought a house, paid off his debts, and even explored other passions, eventually making a commercial for the Costa Rican lottery where he played Saint Peter.

"It was on TV every half hour on every TV channel. I couldn't walk down the street without people catching and saying, 'What's the number?'" Theologos said with a laugh.

Internationally known as a photographer and fine artist, Theologos eventually got tired of keeping up with photography's rapid technological progress. Therefore, his current show at the Center on Halsted, which includes many pastel depictions of the Costa Rican flora, is in a medium he considers an old friend.

"When I was very young, I was overweight, I had a heavy lisp, I was super-shy and it turned out that sketching was my biggest friend," Theologos said. "I could do it alone. I could go out to museums and look at dioramas and draw the animals and little old ladies would come by and ruffle my hair and say, 'That's very nice.'"

While Theologos established himself in Costa Rica and abroad, Salazar, now in Puerto Rico, worked in television and theatre as both producer and actor. Years later—43 years to be exact—he and Theologos would compare notes and realize that they often took on the same theatrical roles at the same time, Theologos in English, and Salazar in Spanish.

During their very extended interlude, Theologos and Salazar had decades long-partnerships with other people—Theologos with a woman, Salazar with a man. Within the last year, mutual friends reconnected the two on the internet. Both were now widowers. Yet they still felt connected to each other, and deepened their connection once again.

"We still have the same things we used to have 50 years ago," Salazar added. "We decided to go ahead and try to make everything work for us."

At 76 and 79, respectively, both Theologos and Salazar know how powerful love can be.

"Love is the most important thing in my life," said Salazar. "It's the motive to make me do things."

"Love doesn't influence the art, exactly, it influences everything," said Theologos. "It makes the person happy, it makes them want to be involved, to live fuller, to do something to communicate with people. It makes you just want to wake up in the morning. It takes you off the bridge instead of jumping.

Currently, the two are trying to decide where the second act should take place. Theologos still feels at home in Costa Rica, but Salazar lives in Chicago now and has family here.

"We've got decisions to make," Theologos said. "We're at a point in life where we realize there are a lot of things we cannot do. We're not only limited in our physical abilities, but in our time. And so, we're figuring out how we can best accommodate ourselves to the situation we're in."

Each potential new home has its own considerations. "Costa Rica is completely different. We might not be able to talk over there like we are here," Salazar explained.

"In the society I've lived in most of my life, I couldn't possibly exist," said Theologos. Costa Rica is not a liberal area. I didn't approve, but there wasn't a whole lot I could do, besides which, I wasn't shopping. I either had to fight it or accept it or do nothing, and guess what I did."

Neither man feels like the 43-year gap was a mistake; rather, a necessary detour.

"When I was young, I was young," Theologos laughed. "I was too involved to think about what's going to happen in 10 years. I was just very intense with being alive at the time. We were both on our individual roads, our paths crossed and it wasn't right at that time. But that didn't mean it was wrong."

"He makes me admire him more than 43 years ago," said Salazar. "We are so proud of our lives."

Theologos' work can be seen on the second-floor gallery of the Center on Halsted until Feb. 14.

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