18 thoughts on “James de la Vega: Artist or Vandal?

  1. vandalism?!!!!
    As a street performer and artist, I support De La Vega’s work and what he has contributed to the art community as well as El Barrio. It is absurd to me that he be chastised for creating a niche for himself artisically , especially since the art world is divided culturally and socially. However, I am not suprised that our oppressive system try to shut him down now that he has added the element of blatant disdain
    for the gentrification in his neighborhood. The more things change the more they stay the same. This is the same government that can put a warrant out for my arrest if I don;t appear for court for not carrying my dog’s vaccination papers on my person while walking him in the Bronx !!!!! This is an OUTRAGE and I stand behind him one hundred percent

  2. Background info
    New York Artist De La Vega Threatened With 30 Days In Jail For ‘Criminal Mischief’ in the Bronx

    Contact: Sandra Palomino, 347-526-8588


    April 2, 2004

    New York artist James De La Vega was arrested on July 17, 2003 and charged with vandalism in the Bronx. Eight months later, the presiding judge has denied a motion to dismiss the charges and has set a date for disposition on April 16, 2004. The DA has offered 30 days in jail, and will not accept any form of restitution that does not include jail time. Additionally, a prosecution in this case could potentially affect how and if De La Vega can continue to work on the streets. Friends and supporters of De La Vega have organized a rally on Wednesday, April 14 at 3:30 pm to support the artist in his struggle against an unjust criminal system. The rally will be held on Lexington Avenue at East 104th Street, in front of De La Vega’s storefront gallery.

    In support, fellow artist Leroy Neiman states: “The talented and original young De La Vega takes his work to the public via the street. That is his decision. Bravo! Let him be!”

    Broadway producer Tommy Tune also offers his support: “James De La Vega is a great artist. Like Keith Haring before him, he gives forth to the people. His message to our city is pure, ‘Become Your Dream.’ He should be encouraged, not jailed.”

    De la Vega, born and raised in Spanish Harlem, has gained international recognition for his playful, and often thought provoking art. His murals have helped to transform the walls of the Spanish Harlem community to tell the story of the people who live there. His murals pay homage to Puerto Rican leaders, historical and contemporary; recognize the arrival of the Mexican families that have arrived and established roots; and document the transformation of our blighted streets with new developments and warn of the dangers of gentrification. More recently, he has expanded his canvas to include the sidewalks of Fifth Avenue, and lower Manhattan – New Yorkers from all walks of life have been entertained and inspired by his sidewalk chalkings.

    De La Vega attended Central Park East elementary school and the Academy of Environmental Science. An excellent student, he was awarded a full scholarship to attend the York Preparatory School, and after graduating valedictorian, received a scholarship to Cornell University.

    After graduating with honors from Cornell in 1994, De La Vega returned to Spanish Harlem to be a teacher, and impart his learnings and experiences. Convinced that he could reach a larger audience outside of a classroom, he left teaching and established a studio on East 103rd Street that came to be known as The Fishtank. Situated in a storefront, De La Vega worked in a setting that welcomed all visitors to watch him at work. He hoped primarily to reach the children of his community, to provide them with a working model of an alternative lifestyle than that offered by the streets. During this time his motto, “Become Your Dream”, was coined; and though he has since penned many others, this saying is the one that he continually throws out as a challenge when speaking at schools and universities.

    Although his message has been carried around the world, De La Vega continues to focus his efforts on his community – El Barrio. He has worked with many local organizations including Mount Sinai Hospital, El Museo del Barrio, The Museum of the City of New York, and Hope Community. Julian Zugazagoitia, Director of El Museo says, “Mr. De La Vega has always conducted himself in a responsible manner, always eager to collaborate and contribute, especially in regards to community and educational outreach. He is generous in a variety of ways, and his goal is to enable people to view and experience art, without particularly entering a museum.”

    The Bronx DA is remaining steadfast in her push to take this case to trial, seeking a 30-day jail sentence. De La Vega is clearly neither a criminal nor a vandal; and the rally will serve both as an opportunity for his friends and supporters to thank him for all of the work he has done in the East Harlem community as well as speak out about the greater issues surrounding this case.

  3. Free De La Vega
    Although his art is commercial and too nuetral, lacking any real political discourse, he should not be arrested and locked up for that.

  4. Who’s the Criminal of What Crime?
    There should be 100 or more of our so-called ‘members of the community’ protesting by way of writing with chalk on the streets around Bronx Criminal Court. Unfortunately, that would burden our comfort, our jobs and, oh yes, perhaps even our ‘freedom,’ like the one Mr. De La Vega was exercising. And if it’s an issue of ‘local law,’ then those laws should be put in the hands of the locals — let the people, the community of the Bronx — judge him and his “crime.”

    This is yet another opportunity to revise our archaic legal system with its detached and inactive legislative and judicial body. Or have we comfortably slipped yet deeper into this plutocracy and ‘terrorist’ mode, where the art and freedom of the poor and working class give way to fascism more and more each day.

    Shame on us all for continuing to support a contaminated system that kills to defend a freedom most of us do not have access to. Shame on us for allowing our ‘elected’ representatives and repressive regulations to blatantly desecrate the fabric of our nation in the name of law, peace and security.

    Perhaps Mr. De La Vega is an Al’Queda cell? Maybe Jorge from La Fonda Boricua is really Osama bin Laden?

    Have we been spun so out of control? What’s worse is that not only have we — as in “We the people…” — been tuned out of our own system, we have been convinced that it’s okay for us to sit back and do nothing about it. And let’s not even get into this embarrassing electoral process we sport, where we are ‘free’ to choose from a small crop of clowns to ‘represent’ us. How can any poor or low-income person be justly represented in a place so obsessed with money and materialism? Who are we kidding?

    If Mr. De La Vega was Caucasian — something he’s been accused of often — instead of Puerto Rican, and if he came from money, instead of facing jail he’d be facing the press more often — as the next Keith Haring or Andy Warhol.

    It’s De La Vega vs. a “justice” system designed by rich white men and operated by a pseudo Machiavellian petite bourgeoisie, who change their coats or are swept aside whenever the status quo is challenged. De La Vega’s lukewarm sociopolitical expressions and growing exposure may be rattling the cages of local politicos and well-to-doers, even if just slightly. That may be his true crime.

    Magdalena Ramirez,

    South Bx.

  5. De La Vega Opts for Trial
    Offered Year Probation on a Guilty Plea, De La Vega Opts for Trial

    April 16, 2004

    New York artist James De La Vega appeared in court today before Judge Joseph Dawson to face disposition of a case stemming from an arrest on July 17, 2003. Surrounded by his supporters, including his mother Elsie Matos and Bronx Assemblyman Ruben Diaz, De La Vega was faced with the option to accept a year’s probation for a guilty plea on a graffiti misdemeanor.

    The dialogue between Judge Dawson and De La Vega’s attorney Kenneth Gilbert focused on the language of the law regarding intent and graffiti. Judge Dawson was clear in explaining that he could only accept a guilty plea if De La Vega admitted that he painted on the wall with the intent to damage property. After much discussion and thought, De La Vega stated that he would only acquiesce if the language used indicated his admission to intentionally ‘making graffiti-art’.

    Upon leaving the court room, De La Vega said: “Although I was prepared to take a guilty plea and a year’s probation, I could not accept having to admit to intentionally damaging property. My intent was to share my art in the hopes of bringing a smile or a thought to the commuters stopped at the traffic light.”

    A court date had been set for June 9.

    Once again, it is impossible to fathom the logic of the crimnal system: 1) how did De La Vega ever reach their radar, 2) NYC is beseiged by profound criminal activity that affects quality of life issues and that present clear dangers to society at large.

    De La Vegas drawings bring joy to the senses and are thought provoking in their way. He is a fine draftsman who, if anything, has played his part to ‘dress up’ the sidewalks & walls of the community.

    The paradox of this case includes the obvious outcome. De La Vega will be catapulted into the ranks of world class artist. Neimens compared him to Keith Harring, and other notable figures in the art world have made statements in his behalf, including our own Musel del Barrio.

    The way i see it, reaching world acclaim is a supremely mysterious process (not entirely based on quality of work, though I cannot think of a world class artist whose work is not exceptional in some way). Im not sure the form of the catapult is predictable.

    In De La Vegas case, if it takes the Bronx DA to launch this talented young man to where he belongs & where we need him, well…

  7. RE: Free De La Vega
    Graffiti dose not all ways have be a bad thing. Many of the graffiti art work in New York City is not just drawn for the fuck of it (like many graffiti artist wannabees who give graffiti a bad name do). There is a purpose to graffiti artwork (artwork being the essential word here.) whether it is political or personal. Either way graffiti is one of the things that make NYC beautiful. NYC will not be the same with out it because graffiti is part of NYC history. And I think that every graffiti artist from the late Keith haring to TATS CRU would agree with me.

  8. RE: De La Vega Opts for Trial
    Arghhhh!! Ya’ make it sound like the guy is going to be vanquished to the Gulags or something –he’s only getting slapped with a misdemeanor for Christ sake!

    Personaly, I think he’s INCREDIBLY overated as an artist and I find his work rather annoying –not to mention distracting. If Mr. Vega really craves that much attention then he should try doing something MORE constructive with his time such as walking backwards or something. Spraying the streets (that AREN’T his) with his nonsense only serves to prove my point that this world has FAR too many (so called) artist then we really have a NEED for.

  9. DE la vega
    I totally agree w/ everyone . He should not be punish for something that does not bring any harm to anyone. but as a law student if it is true from what I’ve heard and know. you need a permit to do any kind artwork in the streets. Something Mr. De La Vega does not have. I know the stipulations of him admittances. He has to admit to destroying public property something that was once old and decayed now brought back to life. Something I guess you can say he’s been doing in el barrio for a long time. But and there is a big but, If he has no permit from Nyc county clerk then he is just as guilty as any other artist w/o a permit. Now what gets me is that the cleverness behind all this is that the man is promoting himself as goes through this gutwrenching ride. I know those nerves of yours are in limbo right now, Believe me I’ve been through it before. But even though I could careless what happens to him I do admire someone who could spin a negative to a positive. But if you really want to make everyone believe that your art is for everyone to enjoy. Do not promote, I know its his trademark but leave the afro at home let the people who don’t know you see the real artist. Not the entreprenuer. Oh and if you are personally reading this good luck and say hello to someone for me.IMUCpix171 011102

  10. Send the judge a letter
    We can’t let them throw this brother in jail. I’ve spent a few afternoons in front of his store/studio and I see the effect he has on the city, communities, and the world judging from the tourists who come through. Send the judge a letter. Send him five letters. But let him know that this

    needs to be treated like art, man. Make him do something creative, leniency, anything. Pass this on, please. Take care, Willie Perdomo

    Any letters to the judge should be addressed to:

    Honorable Seth Marvin

    Crminal Court Judge

    Bronx County Criminal Court

    215 E. 161st St.

    Bronx, NY


    Daniel J. Ollen, Esq.

    20 Vesey Street

    Suite 1200

    New York, NY 10007

    See below for more info:

    Become Your Dream

    On Thursday, June 10, 2004 New York artist James De La Vega was convicted on 3 counts of Class B misdemeanors. Originally charged with criminal mischief, making graffiti, and possession of graffiti materials, the DA reduced the charges to Class B misdemeanors on the opening day of the trial eliminating the option to defend his case before a jury.

    De La Vega returns to court for sentencing on July 29th, and the conviction could mean up to six months in jail for allegedly marking a wall with the

    intent to damage. According to a witness for the prosecution, the cost of removing De La Vegas painting was $20 – this statement further disproves

    that any real damage was done. Although De La Vega has never denied painting on the wall located at 80 Bruckner Boulevard without permission; he holds steadfast to the fact that his intent was never to damage or devalue, but instead to provoke thought as motorists stopped at the red light on their way into Manhattan via the Willis Avenue Bridge.

    Friends of De La Vega have gathered our resources to send a message of

    protest against a system that would enforce a law that devalues the lifework and efforts of one of our citys most prolific artists. If you have ever walked upon a De La Vega drawing or thought and paused to smile, or are one of the many who has dragged home a found De La Vega drawn on discarded furniture or cardboard, you understand the value that he brings to our city.

    For more information about how you can help, contact Friends of De La Vega


    347-512-3703 or e-mail friendsofdelavega@yahoo.com

  11. A dream In the eyes of a world not Known
    We seem to be drown into a freedom, is it given or do we except who we are, Fly for tommorow and embrace the next genra, I call on a past for the future is to hard to follow, Maybe im gone, hope I see you again in the dreams of anothers eyes.

  12. From Artist to State Senator
    James de la Vega has decided to be a write-in candidate. Politics in El Barrio has never been more interesting and JV seems to be maturing — unless this is some sort of anarchic intervention.

  13. RE: From Artist to State Senator
    You imply that anarchic intervention would be immature. Are you? Anarchism is probably the most sophisticated political philosophy ever conceived.

  14. DelaVega I dont like him. He seems to mock with his cartoon drawings at the mentally illed.Thats not fun. Mental illness can happen to anyone of any race or gender.His mockings include split personality drawings . Allerting the community that someone with a split personality is walking among them. In new york you have millions of people with emotional disorders. What motivates this man to mock at one particular person perhaps envy.All he wants is public attention, recognition from cops who nailed him and thats it. Many accuse of of being the zorro of el barrio, when he sees someone who may look weird to him he starts drawing his or her face to get attention from the public and from nypd.He better not get too carried away someday his going to be nailed to the cross.

  15. Don’t be ridiculous DeLaVega is not making fun of the mentally illed. I believe all he is doing is expressing how he sees the world through he drawings. Its becuase of people like you why he doesn’t want to have anything to do with El Barrio anymore. You need to let him be

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