By Federico León de La Vega – November 2012
I could write most of this book about my adventures as a painter artist just about New York. You would think other cities offer great opportunities to artists, and they probably do, but it took me more than a month to sell my first painting in Dallas while 24 hours after arriving in New York I had sold four. You would think an artist could get lucky in Chicago, Miami or San Diego, or any large city. However, people in Chicago who are serious about buying art take pride in saying they bought an art piece in New York and not the other way around. This also happens with Guadalajara in relation to Mexico City; Guadalajara has many wonderful artists, but they usually are not valued by their own city until they have been accepted in Mexico City. I think there are few cities with a patron spirit for the arts and at least for me, New York is “Número Uno”.
While my wife and I were staying at the Goat Island Hilton in Newport RI, spending the coupons I had bartered for, the phone rang. Ed Eglowsky from Genesis Galleries had come up with an imaginative proposal. He had seen in my portfolio a painting of a car, so I was to paint 20 antique Mercedes Benz which he would then show at the inauguration of a car dealership in New York. He suggested I look for a studio to rent; so Luli and I went looking in the Mystic area. A very generous woman of Stonington, M Thomas, who’s work was a combination of real estate agent and art gallery owner helped us. We explained our situation and, with that helpful spirit of art lovers, she took us to see what was available. We drove by 6 Grandview Park: a little Victorian house (built in 1898 by the Weimpfiemer Velvet Mill for one of their executives), with a good size garden surrounding it, a large tree in front and a sailboat on the dry in the next lot. The upper floor was rented to a couple with a little girl; they were both art teachers. The bottom floor was for rent. We jotted the phone number and from M’s office we made a lucky call. The owner of the house, Mr. Perrone, was willing to rent the lower part of the house for a month, for a price which was not cheap but we could afford. This would permit me do the car painting collection to make more money. We were to meet him at his house in Greenwich, CT to make the payment. We drove there, he came out, we introduced ourselves and showed pictures of my occupation, and when I tried to produce the money to pay as we had agreed, my wallet was gone! In panic, my wife and I searched everywhere. in every pocket, in our luggage, everywhere in the car, but the wallet was nowhere to be found. I am sure meeting this landlord was God- meant, because after some twenty minutes of helping us with our money search, he accepted my last painting for payment and entrusted us with his house. This was the beginning of a friendship that has endured through the years.
Back in Mystic we began to install our living quarters and art studio in the little house, and sure enough: as we pulled out my easel, from a nook underneath the driver’s seat slid out my wallet! blessed with still having our money intact and not diminished by the rent payment, we celebrated with wine and steak, cooked in the beautiful New England early Fall night.
I painted furiously for the next few weeks. I would wake up early and paint until late afternoon. Our outings were walks to Stonington and its beautiful waterside. The house had very little furniture, which made it perfect to place the 20 canvas I was simultaneously working on. We had taken the train to Manhattan to buy art supplies from Pearl on Canal St. and spent our last coupons in a luxurious meal. Luli cooked, washed, went for errands, helped with my work and was very cooperative and patient in every way ( when men are pressed for money we get edgy, and when I paint intensely I also get extremely affectionate). M. Thomas would come and visit often, we made good friends with the couple on the top floor and other neighbors, we visited every little shop from Groton to Westerly and saw the leaves turn colors. One night we went to a concert in the New London Navy Base. Finally, the 20 Mercedes Benz were finished and I got paid well enough. As in any collection, an artist can soon spot the best paintings, the ones that will sell first. There was this red 1939 540k convertible I wish I would have kept, or at least taken a photograph of. Now I only have a few sketches.
One client lead to another and our visits to New York and Mystic became frequent. Tony Perrone and his family have continued to barter with us for stay at their place, as our friendship has continued. On one occasion the wife of a distinguished lawyer asked me to do a mural in their home in Bedford CT. They had what they called an “English Folly”: a small guest house, with lavish architecture which created an illusion of imperial times when seen across the garden, from the main house. They had us stay with them for a few weeks while I painted. Richard and Elizabeth Carlton were very kind patrons and hosts and soon we became friends. They graciously invited us to other fine homes and restaurants in the area. Often we rode on Richard’s old Jaguar, which was delightful. These acquaintances led to others and to more commissions, and so it went, our economic situation improved and life slowly became wonderful, all because I was a persevering artist in the Big Apple. Meanwhile in Mexico, the economy started a painful recovery and patrons emerged with renewed interest for my artwork. I keep some of my best friends and memories of my first visits to New York. Richard’s XJ Jaguar, which Elizabeth sold to me at a bargain price after he passed away, is now my cherished antique toy, the Perrone family visits us in Puerto Vallarta. In my old sketchbook there is evidence of how my time and work keeps passing. I regret a 12 x 16ft mural I did for a restaurant in Greenwich (the Patina Café across the Terra restaurant on Greenwich Ave.) disappeared when the owners sold the place to a fashion store. I made a mistake in painting directly on the wall -I now paint on canvas which I then glue to walls. All I have now to show is a postcard which I here reproduce… and some sketches. About my sketches, I think that although they are not as precise as photographs, the let me relive the feelings I went through while I caressed shapes of things with my pencil.
Federico León de la Vega
Please Visit: http://www.federicoleondelavega.com
This is a chapter of a book I am writing about my adventures as a painter artist.
The Federico León de la Vega Estudio – Café is open to the public and is located in Paseo de la Marina 31, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit. Opening hours are Monday to Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Sundays from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m.