Traces of De La Vega

DLV - China Star_3Kevin McLaughlin
DLV - Stromboli_2Kevin McLaughlin Pieces by James De La Vega.

The thick white chalk etched on an East Village sidewalk read:


East Village artist James De La Vega once brought this existential aesthetic — and his occasionally controversial thoughts — to the streets of the East Village and then for five years to his “Museum” on St. Marks Place, which closed last year citing rent increases.

A self-described “pessimistic optimist,” his presence in clever quotes and imagery remain part of the neighborhood’s urban adornments; goldfish holding umbrellas underwater and his signature “Realiza Tu Sueño” (“Become Your Dream”) are still found throughout the area. Places including the facade of The China Star restaurant on First Avenue, the garbage cans outside Stromboli pizza shop and Porto Rico on St. Marks Place all bear the traces of his noticeable absence.

Mr. De La Vega has since moved on to new projects and has bittersweet feelings about the area: “The East Village is a powerful neighborhood,” he told us. “The locals were my favorite but I don’t miss the neighborhood.”

Mr. De La Vega’s work resonates with simple, but profound, images and rhetoric, yet he also addresses various socio-political controversies, often through illustrations and commentary on behalf of his Latino heritage. He once addressed the gentrification of East Harlem through a painted a mural stating: “Don’t think for a minute that we haven’t noticed the 96th Street boundary moving further north.”

The imagery and communiqués all encapsulate a broad Mr. De La Vega mission, which he described as a “strategically developed language intended for everyone on the globe. It speaks to children, poor, rich, and people who speak different languages. It is intended to make people think, unlearn, and remind. Racism, dreams, and inspiration are my favorite subjects.”

“The work is mentored and developed by the total American experience,” he says. It is derived from television, fashion and conversation. “The fullness and the emptiness of it all are of interest.”

DLV - Porto Rico_5Kevin McLaughlin Another piece by Mr. De La Vega.

More recently, Mr. De La Vega’s enduring quote — “Become Your Dream” — as well as his esoteric fish have been spotted throughout the city, in chalk around Central Park and on random pieces of trash left on sidewalks on the Upper East Side. The De La Vega mystique and chance of happening upon his work maintain the charm and purpose, as he protects the deliberate unexpectedness. As to whether or not there are specific neighborhoods he focuses on, he says “That’s a secret.”

Now, loyal followers — or those to become followers — can find his work through Facebook and on Twitter (@DELAVEGAPROPHET). Mr. De La Vega has embraced social media somewhat sardonically, saying: “Technology is ungodly and brings out the devil in most. I love it. It is today’s Hollywood.”

His public works have also expanded uptown to 67th Street and Madison Avenue, where he recently completed a mural project with the apparel outlet Tory Burch. As his work has become more widely known, he admits, “chalk drawing and ‘the surprise’ are still my favorite mediums for presenting ‘DE LA VEGA’.”

Mr De La Vega says that he is committed to moving beyond the confines of the East Village “creating powerful human beings that are not afraid to resist all that has been taught to them and do something constructive and beneficial for development of the human mind and its dream states.” Although the chalk drawings once regularly sketched along St. Mark’s have long washed away, Mr. De La Vega’s imprint on the East Village can still be found in the most unlikely of places — the discovery of which can be delightful or self-reflective: