Jorge de la Vega – Misfit Living

Buenos Aires, January 2006.

In the context of Argentine contemporary art, Jorge de la Vega is considered today one of the central figures of the deep change that took place in the visual arts during the sixties. His life and work are the reflection of a generation that tried to find a way out of a turbulent and complex world, a generation that was led by the idea of freedom. De la Vega, a self-taught painter, was born in Buenos Aires on March 27, 1930.  In 1961, he joined the Nueva Figuración (New Figuration) group, together with Ernesto Deira, Rómulo Macció and Luis Felipe Noé. The four painters had been working together for many years in the same workshop, which had initially been a hat factory founded by Noé’s grandfather. After this exhibition, they went on a trip to Paris to further their studies. They carried out activities together as a group until 1965, having exhibitions both in Argentina and abroad. The second period of De la Vega’s work is the Bestiario (Bestiary). His paintings are populated by a repertoire of strange monsters and the use of anamorphosis – oblique perspectives – on canvases on which he pasted various materials such as folded rags, pieces of glass, mirrors, buttons and board game pieces. It is a zoology of fantastic beings with human traits in which the festive and the humorous are intertwined by an underlying irony with a highly mordant tone. The technique used by de la Vega in this series shows an absolute rupture with aesthetic conventions, and the reach of full maturity in the artist’s work. In 1965 he was invited by Cornell University, Ithaca, as a professor of painting during the institution’s Latin American Year. He obtained a Fullbright scholarship to finance his trip. He lived for two years in the United States, moving between Cornell and New York. The United States marks his last period in the field of visual arts. A radical change took place in his work. He took off his suit and tie, let his hair grow and saw how it fit him. The psychedelic paintings of this period reflect his experiences with hallucinogens in unfolded images such as Retrato de Eleonor Rigby (Portrait of Eleonor Rigby), Mr. Músculo (Mr. Muscle) and Cheeta. An environment of parties, freedom and hippie euphoria is clearly appreciated in works that are a complex conglomeration of human figures painted in black and white, closely related to the world of advertising and comics. Crowded and self-absorbed people writhe in his Psicomatización (Psychomatization), the Retrato de Jimmy Hendrix Gurú (Portrait of Jimmy Hendrix Guru), Está usted bienvenido (You are welcome) and Rompecabezas (Puzzle). 

De la Vega shows the dehumanization of a stereotyped society -the mass society- where frivolity, consumerism and alienation prevail. There are influences of American popular magazines and some aspects of Pop-Art. In 1967 he returns to Buenos Aires. He leaves his parents’ house, begins to attend psychoanalysis sessions and reconnects with Marta Rossi. Marta had been a close friend for years. In 1968 they met at the “Florida Garden”, on Florida and Paraguay streets, and never came apart again. He would marry her a year later and have a son, Ramón, whom de la Vega would never meet due to the premature death of the artist. At that time a great crisis affected art and culture in general. It is a widespread phenomenon in the centers of the Western world: the questioning of the so-called “death of art”. In Argentina, the closing of the Visual Arts Center of the Di Tella Institute meant the end of a cycle. And it is the last change in Jorge De la Vega’s life. He wanted to reach more people, more public, to be more direct and simple. He abandons painting and devotes himself to composing songs. Since 1969 he participates, together with Jorge Schusseim and Marikena Monti in musical shows. He presented his album El gusanito en persona (The little worm in person) at the Bonino Gallery in Buenos Aires, with his portrait photographed by Oscar Bony on the cover. He needs to express himself in a different way in order to get closer to people and communicate more directly. The lyrics of his songs are closely related to the content of his paintings.  And as in his song Inadaptación (Inadaptation), he speaks of how to be in the world and not die in the attempt without breaking down.

Translation of one of his songs:

This song is for you

who lives quieter

if you drink linden tea.

This song is for you

who maintains your style

by the force of coffee.

It is for those of us who,

with aspirin, revive

if the mood declines.

For those who, with moderate use

of alcohol and nicotine

have adapted.

We have adapted to our job

even if it is neither beautiful, nor ugly

we have adapted to spend the winter

even if the winter is eternal.

We adapt to anything

as long as it is not too frightening

we adapt without asking ourselves,

why we need to adapt.

And we readapt ourselves to be anyone

except the guy we should be

and readapt without asking ourselves

when it is that we start to re-readapt.

This song is for you

would you prefer an aspirin

or a touch of snuff.

At the age of 40, he got back into his suit, started a family, adapted and soon after died.  It was on August 26, 1971, at the exit of Channel 7 television, after being interviewed with Jorge Schusseheim. He spoke of the connection between art and poetry and of his intentions to live in art, yet another utopia of those golden ’60s.