Cevallos Brothers

September  21, 2023 – February 24, 2024
Image: Carlos and Miguel Cevallos, Poster for Yeh Art Gallery, 2023, pencil, ink, marker on paper, 22 x 30 inches

Opening Reception: Thursday, September 21, 2023, 4:30–7:30pm

The Yeh Art Gallery at St. John’s University presents the first exhibition ever devoted to the hand-painted signs of the legendary Cevallos Brothers—Carlos and Miguel— who along with their late brother Victor have made signs, murals, and banners for many Queens and NYC-based businesses for nearly fifty years. The exhibition focuses on an archive of signs collected from small businesses along a stretch of Roosevelt Ave in Queens that connects Jackson Heights to Corona. The signs are all humbly crafted with pen and marker on standard sizes of poster paper, and are often announcements for fleeting one-day events or holidays such as Mother’s Day, Easter or Day of the Dead. Carlos and Miguel Cevallos—both in their eighties—each bring their own creative personality and expertise to their work and complement each other perfectly, with Miguel sketching the lettering and the layout while Carlos handles all of the painting and color.

They continue to create signs to this day. Influenced equally by the unique voice of their brother Victor, who died in 2012, and the vernacular tradition of Latin American signage which surrounded them in their youth. The exhibition also includes photographs, news clippings and exhibition ephemera tracing their story from Ecuador, where they were born, to the many years working and producing signs in Bogotá and then to each of their eventual moves to New York City.

After Victor and Carlos traveled throughout Central and South America in the late 50s and early 60s, the three brothers started a sign shop in Bogotá, Colombia which opened around 1966. Victor, the eldest brother, then moved to New York City in 1969 to pursue a career as an artist and Carlos arrived five years later in 1974, while Miguel maintained the shop with their mother in
Bogotá serving the community there for another thirty years. Throughout the 70s and 80s, Carlos and Victor found work painting commercial signs backdrops and sets, and honed their lettering and graphic style. While working hard to support themselves through commercial sign painting they also pursued a fine art practice, producing their own respective paintings and maintaining an art studio in Times Square through the 80s and 90’s, and then later on in Corona, Queens. They maintained connections to the art community, participating in events and exhibitions at such venues as El Museo del Barrio, P.S. 1, and Theatre for the New City, among others throughout the years. In 2005, their mother passed away in Bogotá, and Miguel joined his brothers in New York City to continue their work together.

In more recent years, after the loss of their brother Victor in 2012, Carlos and Miguel continued to visit the Roosevelt avenue corridor where mostly all of their long- time clients were located. They would often come in the evenings when these businesses were open since many of their clients were restaurants and bars. In 2018, a local Queens resident, Aviram Cohen, started a public archive of their signs that he photographed and posted to Instagram. Over time, Cohen and the brothers developed a friendship. When the pandemic struck, it greatly affected the brother's client base. As many of the local Queens businesses shut down, Cohen pivoted to use the account to support the brothers by reaching a broader NYC business community. As a sign of recognition of their cultural significance, small businesses from all over the city started requesting commissions. What began as an urgent need to support two hard working artists who lost their source of income, grew into a form of deep appreciation for the work of the Cevallos Brothers that reciprocally reinforces support for the New York City small business community at large.

Cevallos Brothers is organized by Max Warsh, Director of the Yeh Art Gallery, St. John’s University with the support of Carlos Cevallos, Miguel Cevallos and Aviram Cohen.

Archival Images: Carlos and Miguel Cevallos at their sign shop in Bogotá, Colombia c. 1973; Victor and Carlos in Times Square in front of a mural painted by Victor in the 1980s; all photos courtesy of the artists.