Friday, October 13, 2006

Fine Art Friday: Julio de Diego

Julio de Diego


When I first saw, more than 25 years ago, the privately-owned watercolor shown above, all I was told about the artist was that he was Spanish and had once been married to Gypsy Rose Lee.

Thank goodness for the internet. Julio de Diego was quite an interesting character.

When Painter Julio de Diego was a boy of 15 in Madrid, he already knew that he wanted to be an artist, but his father, a wholesale and retail merchant, objected. Father insisted that Julio and Julio's brother should aim for business success. "He even removed the table from my bedroom to discourage me from drawing," recalls De Diego. "One day I found some of my drawings, and he had written all over them, destroying every one: 'You are a Bohemian and this will be the cause of your dying of hunger.' " So Julio stuffed a few clothes into a suitcase, left the house for good, and, true to the romantic pattern of art biographies, became a successful painter. His brother inherited the business, gambled it away, and killed himself. (Time Magazine)

By 1924 when de Diego landed in the United States as a political exile and grandly threw his remaining few cents into the wind from the top of the Woolworth Building, he had worked as a scenery designer, movie actor, ballet extra and army officer.

Starting from scratch, de Diego painted murals for kitchens and bathrooms, designed menus, provided fashion illustrations and children's book illustrations and magazine covers (scroll down slightly). He worked for the WPA, painting "street scenes, landscapes, and 'some very terrible murals.' " (Time Magazine)

His first major art show was in Chicago in 1932, and he retained a close relationship with the city throughout his career. His work is found in many museums.


At age 62, de Diego exhibited 38 paintings at Manhattan's Landry Gallery devoted to the Spanish Armada:

Who but Julio would exhibit 38 paintings devoted exclusively to the Armada? Actually, there are many reasons why he became intrigued by the Armada, from the fact that it set sail on May 9, his birthday, to the fact that it is in every Spaniard's blood. Most of the paintings are small, but their scale does not detract from their impact. The ships struggle against wind and fire in a kind of wild dance; they glow bright red, founder among emerald waves, finally surrender to the sloshing rhythm of the sea. There is always high drama in the fall of a great fleet, and Julio de Diego has caught it well. The Armada's disaster has provided at least this welcome triumph. (Time)



23 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'd never heard of this artist before, but the watercolor you reproduce is quite haunting.

LZ Blogger said...

I like the painting and I LOVE watercolors! ~ jb///

Carl V. said...

Wow! I really like these. Great, rich color. Fascinating to look at.

Anonymous said...

Julio was a friend of mine when I lived in Sarasota, Florida. He was an incredible figure to behold: tall, thin, and very charismatic; when the weather was cool he would wear a long wool cape. He was also very intense and despite his age (I think he he had just turned 80 when I moved away in 1977) he had a certain undeniable masculine sexuality about him. He had an open drawing session at his home once a week, with a nude model for those who wanted to come.. word of mouth among his friends. His house was a small bungalow very close to the bay and was filled with wonderful things, including fantastic little mobiles of acrobats, cut from tin cans and painted in bright colors. He was a beloved friend of many - many of whom are also gone. I walked by his little house back in May, which still stands in a greatly changed and upwardly gentrified neighborhood, and remembered fondly all the muses who danced at his door.

I just stumbled onto to your blog and likely won't find my way back. But I understand completely your fascination and am not in the least suprised to find his spirit so alive and active, after all these years!

SFP said...

Thank you for sharing that!

GymRat said...

My aunt and Julio were friends. One thing that's not on your bio of him is his jewelry work. He made her this gorgeous silver necklace that she later gave to me. It's quite different than most of his other work, much more eclectic. I'm proudly wearing it today. If you somehow can email me, I'll take a picture of it and send it to you if you're curious.

Christine Wynne said...

I was a college student at New College from 1970-72 and was one of the nude models who posed for Julio and his group of friends once a week. Needless to say, most of Julio's girl friends were my age (early 20s) and he was quite insulted when I did not want to become his lover.... I found him to be one of the most creative and fascinating people I have ever known- he could make an empty clorox bottle into a work of art! his jewelery was amazing and fantastic - he claimed that he was asked to sign the Surrealist Manifesto but declined. He also claimed to have apprenticed with Picasso in the 20s. I have a watercolor of me in the nude that stills hangs on my bedroom wall. wonder if it is worth anything?

Laurence Hunt said...

I also knew Julio during my time at New College in Sarasota. I visited with him and other friends in 1968-69. His home was captivating, and I was struck by the large number of miniature paintings. I believe he mentioned also having a home in Woodstock. I had no idea who he was or his background. He was "a friend of a friend" as it were. We went as a small group to see Zeffirelli's Romeo & Juliet when it was first released. He was engaging and energetic. I'm only now beginning to realize the scope of his experience and accomplishment!

Anonymous said...

Back in the late 60's and in the 70's some friend and I lived near Julio. He would often visit us at our place and would bring us gifts.
One of the greatest gifts I remember him bringing to us was some paper bags fill with toilet paper. On the bags he drew many pictures of various kinds. I don't recall what happened to the bags, but I wish I had held on to them.
He was one of the most interesting people I have ever known.

Laurence Hunt said...

To my knowledge, this page contains the most extensive recollections of Julio that have so far been published online. It is great to see this growing!

SFP said...

I'm always thrilled when someone else adds a recollection to this post. Has anyone ever seen any of Julio's work in a museum? I've never been to Chicago, but I assume he must have work on exhibit there.

Linda T said...

I was a student at Ringling School of Art, graduating in 1970. My friend and I were graciously befriended by Julio, attended openings at the Ringling Museum of Art with him, and were invited to dine at his home on delicious Spanish dishes he prepared. His home was facinating, decorated with art created from all kinds of recycled objects. He was very charismatic and quite the ladie's man! No wonder Gypsey Rose Lee was attracted to him. I loved his fantastic bohemiam clothing and the beautiful jewelry he created. I couldn't afford to buy any of his pieces, being a poor art student, but he did repair an antique ring for me. I can't remember the name of the jewelery store he worked from on St. Armand's Circle. During the warmer months he lived in Woodstock, New York, maintaining a studio there. A facinating man!

Janice C. said...

I also modeled for Julio. It was the early 70's and I lived on Cross Street, Sarasota FL. When I was in town I loved spending time at his cozy abode. I modeled & we mostly talked of sailing and ocean voyages. Did anyone else get a bubble bath? Sorry, I digress. Last night I found a ring he made for me and today I googled him & I found these blogs. I now see he was a very busy man.

Laurence Hunt said...

No bubble baths! I wish I had asked him about sailing though....

I assume the jewellery store would have been Zebo Starker's place (now in the Naples area).

Zebo Leather
4351 S Chamberlain Boulevard
North Port, FL 34286-7638
Phone: (941) 426-4334

I wonder what became of Julio's place in Woodstock? He is still listed there by the CofC:

http://www.woodstockchamber.com/woodstock-new-york-ny-artists-famous.html

Laurence Hunt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laurence Hunt said...

I have requested that Wikipedia create an article, though I don't have time to do it myself:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Requested_articles/Biography/By_profession#Painters

Julio is mentioned there under Gypsy Rose Lee (married 1948) and residents of Woodstock, New York.

Hana Peterson said...

I knew Julio in the late 60's. We met at my cousins wedding, near Sarasota. My Aunt Gladys was a waitress at the restaurant where he had breakfast regularly and they formed a bond, so when her daughter Linda was getting married, Julio was invited. I just ran across the photo taken at the reception, of Julio, a friend of his, me, and the happy couple.
It was great fun to meet Julio. Of all the people at the wedding, I felt a comaraderie with Julio. I felt so stupid in the yellow gown I was asked to wear, with the yellow ribbony thing on my head. I was a hippie blue jeans girl. When Julio's eyes and mine met, as I was walking down the isle with the bride's maids bouquet, feeling so awkward and uncomfortable, I started laughing because I could see that he could see how foolish I felt and uncomfortable, yet how surrendered to the part as family duty. His eyes laughed with me.
I was an art lover/student..from Saratoga Springs NY..still in high school. We spoke of art and I asked him if I could visit him. As I approached his door he stepped out, hearing me say about the view of the bay, 'It reminds me of Marin!' That impressed him. He took my finger measurement and promised me a ring, which he sent, along with, over the years, little watercolers that unfortunately, I've lost.One was of me in that awful brides maids gown. I've given the ring to my daughter in law. It is a gorgeous piece.

I enjoyed our talks, his house, but not his constant sexual remarks. Still, I stayed with him in Woodstock (his family members also lived on that land)for several days after I left my summer job as a counselor near Woodstock at a camp (1969). He was disappointed I wouldn't pose for him...or anything else.

He also told me he worked in Picasso's studio as a young man. I don't see that mentioned in articles on the internet.

hana p

Laurence Hunt said...

Hana, your recollection of the connection to Picasso is the most direct I've encountered, though I have seen it mentioned in other places, so the multiple reports are probably validating that presumed historical fact.

Laurence Hunt said...

As to jewelry, Mike Levine was a friend of Zebo's and Julio's, and at some point, Mike set up a separate operation, though his shop was last downtown in 69-70. That is, I recall that Zebo stayed at St. Armand's during that period. His brother Jay Starker also kept a shop in downtown Sarasota, and was still operating the last time I was downtown.

Atticus said...

I have an early painting (1920) by De Diego. It is a North African scene and very fine work for a young artist. He went on to paint in a very different way and remains one of the great undiscovered painting talents worthy of a retrospective and further academic work.

Jezz said...

Julio was my Godfather and the shop downtown where Zebo made his shoes out of belonged to my Dad, "Le Shop" Part of the old Kress Building until it was set fire causing one of the Kress fires. . Jay Starker and Frank Wallenstein both did incredible jewelry works with Julio.

waterfall643 said...

I have more to tell but for now, Julio's daughter still owns the Woodstock house and studio. Daughter Kiriki was his only known child, she still lives in NYC.He had one grandchild, Vicente, and several great grandchildren, including twins. Twins ran in his family, I recall. I and the artist Danny Chessher lived with Julio there for several months, he did so much to help us, made it possible to secure an amazing room at the Hotel Chelsea and helped us get Ford Foundation fellowships to the Art Students League of NY. He was an incredibly kind and generous man who reached out to younger people with a great open intelligence. So many memories there. He remained our friend until the day he died. He loved women of many ages, I knew many of his female friends, all intelligent women. He loved women, period. Thought of them as works of art, I believe. I resent it when some denigrate him for his attraction to women, that's only natural whatever a man's age is. He was honest and a gentleman about it, unlike many others.

Anonymous said...

I have a portrait of his Daughter Kiriki on the wall behind me - made it all the way to New Zealand! I love it. Also have an Amada Series painting and looking for more.