By Federico León de La Vega ● October 2012
New York ought to be, at least once in the life of every artist a compulsory destiny. It attracted me unexpectedly, like a magnet. Still deep into Mexico’s 1994 economic crisis, and while I painted my version of Stary Night ( a chair and a palapa on the beach under the stars) I was listening to Richard & Wendy Musk’s “Present Dreams” album. I was captivated by this soft music. I played it over and over until I finished the painting. Feeling somehow grateful for the inspiration, as I came out of the right side of my brain to love the results, I looked for some contact information on the album’s cover. I sent these wonderful musicians a photograph of the painting I had produced with the help of their sounds. To my surprise, a few weeks later I received an invitation to visit them in New York!
I rushed to accept the invitation. Quickly and without much money I did all preparations for the trip, in spite of this not being good moment for unexpected expenses. As I have mentioned before, art sales were totally depressed and I was struggling to pay my bills…but something inside moved me from the start. Anyway, I found myself flying to New York shortly afterward, with my portable easel and my photograph album as carry-ons. I still have the old easel: one of those classic French field models with three legs that pull out and a box that opens to hold the canvas. While staring at the clouds through the airplane’s window, a passenger near me asked what my box was, and I explained. Naturally, his next request was to see photographs of my paintings, so I handed him my album, which I always carry with me, just in case. Another passenger got interested and then one more: I relished my artistic ego. When one of them heard I was going to spend the night in New Canaan, he offered me a ride to the Melba Inn –the hotel Richard and Wendy suggested I stay at- and so it was that New York treated me well from the very begining, since my ride had an elegant limousine waiting to take him home.
New Canaan is a beautiful town, typical of Connecticut, with much of that simple New England elegance.Close to Manhattan, but very quiet, well connected by the train with the end of the line station across the hotel. After a silent restful night I called Richard and Wendy. They had left a fruit basket in my room and a number to call. We met and shared the whole day: exchanging ideas, experiences and projects. Artists share many dreams
and none of them has an easy road to follow; what is magic is that there is always someone interested and ready to help. From this first visit evolved many contacts unforeseen. Among them, Doug Major, owner of the towns limo service offered to take me to and from La Guardia every time I came to New York, all because I gave him a tiny watercolor as a present. The man was totally committed to helping the arts any way he could. He also vowed to find me some buyers.
From this first visit was born my constant passion for New York; every time I land there I feel electricity below my feet, as if they moved on their own. I did not sell anything on this visit -maybe because I had nothing to sell, I had only photographs to show. In my haste to get there I had come unprepared for so much potential. So I dedicated myself to walk Manhattan, visiting every gallery in Soho, Greenwhich and everywhere I could. I then returned to Mexico City, very excited, but still without money. I quickly sold what I could at bargain prices and packed five paintings. I convinced Luli to come with me and shortly after I was back in NYC, with my wife and four hundred dollars -nothing, by the city’s standards…yet I had a limousine waiting for us in La Guardia Airport.
Luli and I woke up in New Canaan and, as soon as Doug was ready, we put four paintings into his car (the paintings were rolled unstretched) and drove off to see an art dealer. He had a large gallery in Greenwhich Connecticut, on a second floor “Genesis” was its name. He was a polite but dry and practical man -much like most New Yorkers are. As a kind gesture to Doug, who often bartered his services in exchange for items for his art collection, he quickly granted us his total attention. As I rolled out each painting on the floor (my formats have always been large and therefore difficult to extend over tables) I was very nervous. He carefully looked at my work. I began to breathe easier when I saw his interest awaken. Finally he asked us into his office and as we sat down he went straight into business and asked me if I would accept a $5,000 dollar offer for my four paintings: ” Three thousand cash and two thousand in coupons” he said. “Coupons!” I replied “What will I do with coupons?” along with the peace I initially felt when I knew we were having a sale, I felt anguish to suspect the deal would not be fair. Yet Ed Eglowsky as a shrewd Jewish art dealer and he knew artists, he knew how to work out a win-win situation. He calmed me down “you did not come to New York to sell only four paintings, now did you? the coupons will give you staying power. You’ll stay in good hotels, eat some fine food …while I find you something else. I understand if the deal seems unfavorable to you, but I am in business to earn money and for now this is all I can offer.” I accepted. It was my best and only alternative at the time. Besides, Doug made me feel real good when he commented, as we walked through the underground parking, back to his car “Not many foreigners, Federico, arrive into a city and pocket three grand in less than 24 hours…only in New York.”
And so it was that Luli and I became familiar with Manhattan and its museums, with enough coupons to pay for any of the restaurants in the long list of establishments Ed Eglowsky traded with. Some were truly good and we enjoyed much. Our only dilemma was tips we were not included in the coupons… and we were not about to part with the little cash we had, so we avoided going back to the same place to eat again to avoid ugly looks from the waiters. However, we sure slept well every night in very comfortable rooms.
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.