James De La Vega

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James De La Vega

James De La Vega (born approximately July 15, 1972)[when?] is a visual artist of Puerto Rican descent who lives in New York City. He is best known for his street aphorisms and muralist art.[1]


James De La Vega was born in East Harlem, the son of Jaime De La Vega and Elsie Matos, and graduated valedictorian[2] at York Preparatory School and attended Cornell University, where he graduated in 1994 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts.[3] He is a former art teacher at York Preparatory School.[4]

James De La Vega was a member of the Latino Greek Lettered Organization Lambda Upsilon Lambda (LUL) He was disaffiliated from the organization in May 2012 after speaking out against members advertising hazing, alcohol, and marijuana use through social media.[5][6]

James De La Vega was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2014. In December 2015 De La Vega had a tumor removed from his brain. His treatment and operations have limited his ability to draw and paint.

On March 1, 2018, De La Vega’s mother, Elsie Matos passed away due to complications from a fall at Citadel Nursing and Rehabilitation.[7] Elsie Matos served as a focal point in many of De La Vega’s featured and iconic pieces. Ms. Matos has battled diabetes for many years, her struggle was chronicled in a New York Times article[8] outlining the health crisis in Spanish Harlem. In 2003 De La Vega failed to win a primary for New York State senate while campaigning on healthcare access for Spanish Harlem residents.[9]


James De La Vega (aka De La Vega) is known as a community-inspiring artist. Those who come across his work know him primarily for his murals and sidewalk chalk drawings. His murals can be found mostly in East Harlem, and his chalk drawings may show up anywhere in Manhattan. His street drawings are usually accompanied by aphoristic messages such as "Become Your Dream." Legally, his outdoor work qualifies as graffiti, although many put them in a separate genre. James De La Vega was a recipient of a Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters & Sculptors Grant in 1999.

Artist James De La Vega was featured in MoMA PS1 Exhibit 100 Drawings in the spring of 1999 alongside other prominent contemporary artist such as Danica Phelps, Rob Pruitt, Amy Gartrell and Olav Westphalen.[10]

Christie's auction house has featured some of his work, and fans were able to view his more intimate work in his East Village gallery until the location closed in 2010.[1][11][12] He has since opened a CafePress online shop.[13][14]

In 2011, De La Vega collaborated with Tory Burch to create a line of accessories that benefited the Tory Burch Foundation.[15]

Street Art vs. Vandalism[edit]

In July 2003, De La Vega was charged with vandalism for a mural he painted on a blank wall in the Bronx. He was offered one year’s probation in exchange for a guilty plea, but he refused to say he caused “damage” to the property and thus sentenced to 50 hours of community service.l[3][11]

Apple iPhone 5s Ad Campaign[edit]

In May 2014, artist De La Vega filed a cease-and-desist letter to Apple, claiming their new ad campaign for the iPhone 5S uses his trademarked slogan, “You are more powerful than you think”.[16] Apple's usage of the slogan 'clearly misleads customers into believing De La Vega somehow supports, approves and/or endorses its products' it apparently adds.[17]


  1. ^ a b Become Your Dream by De La Vega. Harper Collins, 2009. ISBN 0-06-118923-5
  2. ^ Stewart, Ronald. "Headmaster's Thoughts - May 2007". www.yorkprep.org. York Preparatory School. Archived from the original on 4 January 2014. Retrieved 4 January 2014.
  3. ^ a b "Street Muralist May Soon Be Looking at Jailhouse Walls" by Ian Urbina, The New York Times, June 12, 2004.
  4. ^ "James De La Vega, an Artist From El Barrio" Archived 2007-10-20 at the Wayback Machine by Alejandro Ponce, harlemlive.org (unknown date).
  5. ^ Richardson, Clem. "The Journey of James De La Vega: from El Barrio street artist to champion of Latino empowerment". New York Daily News. New York Daily News. Retrieved 12 January 2014.
  6. ^ http://www.launidadlatina.org/membership/disaffiliated-members/#.Ub8O0PnvsmN
  7. ^ Seward, Ardina. "Famous Artist's Mother Passes Away". hamlethub.com. Hamlet Hub LLC. Retrieved 18 January 2019.
  8. ^ Kleinfield, Nathan (January 10, 2006). "Living at an Epicenter of Diabetes, Defiance and Despair". New York Times. New York Times. Retrieved 18 January 2019.
  9. ^ Horowitz, Carol (9 July 2003). "A Community‐centered Approach to Diabetes in East Harlem". Journal of General Internal Medicine. 18 (7): 542. doi:10.1046/j.1525-1497.2003.21028.x. PMC 1494885.
  10. ^ http://momaps1.org/exhibitions/view/244
  11. ^ a b "Marked Man: Guerilla Artist James De La Vega Leverages his Street Smarts to a Fashion Career" by Colin Fleming, Smithsonian, October 2007.
  12. ^ De La Vega Museum, New York Magazine.
  13. ^ "Street Artist James De La Vega Closes East Village Museum After Five Years" Archived 2011-12-06 at the Wayback Machine by Patrick Hedlund, DNAinfo, August 13, 2010.
  14. ^ "Writing on Walls, and Looking to Right Wrongs" by David Gonzalez, The New York Times, October 5, 2004.
  15. ^ [1] Spotlight On: James De La Vega Spotlight On • September 7, 2011
  16. ^ "NYC street artist says Apple stole his slogan". NY Daily News. Retrieved 2017-05-24.
  17. ^ "New York street artist claims Apple stole advertising slogan from him". Mail Online. Retrieved 2017-05-24.


External links[edit]

  1. ^ Seward, Ardina. "Famous Artist's Mother Hospitalized". www.hamlethub.com. Retrieved 2018-03-04.
  2. ^ Seward, Ardina. "Famous Artist's Mother Passes Away". www.hamlethub.com. Retrieved 2018-03-04.