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A Visit to El Museo del Barrio

July 13, 2016


I came across the name Antonio Lopez in a recent issue of Elle Décor and immediately said to myself, “I haven’t heard that name in years.” When describing this talented individual the magazine posed the question, “Was there ever an artist who captured the in-your-face glamour of the 1970s and ‘80s quite like Antonio Lopez?

Tina Turner and Mick Jagger done in 1986 by Antonio Lopez

Courtesy of: Elle Décor

The answer is, “Lopez was definitely the one and only.”

Elle Décor goes on to describe Lopez as the Puerto Rican-born illustrator who quickly rose to the height of the fashion world, sketching fiery, flamboyant pencil, charcoal and watercolor portraits of models, musicians and others for Elle, Vogue and other publications, as well as collaborating with designers such as Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent.

A portrait of Angelo Colon done in 1982 by Antonio Lopez. Created with pencil/watercolor on paper

Courtesy of: El Museo del Barrio

The article also noted that there would be an exhibition of his work at El Museo del Barrio museum from June 14 to November 26. I quickly decided to see this exhibit on Tuesday the 14th. Guess what? I arrived at noon only to be told that the museum was closed and would be open at 6:00 pm that night. Why? This was the day the of the celebrated Museum Mile Festival.

This is a major event that has taken place every year since 1978. It involves seven of the country’s finest museums – all of which are on Fifth Avenue. Each is open to New Yorkers and out-of-towners for FREE from 6:00 to 9:00 pm on this special day. Full disclosure: I have never heard of this event. I must live under a rock.

The next day I returned to the museum via the Lexington #6 subway, got off at the 103rd Street stop and walked to El Museo del Barrio at 1230 Fifth Avenue (between 104th and 105th). The exhibit is titled Future Funk Fashion and includes 150 drawings, photos, clothing designs and shoe sculptures.


Lopez was born in Puerto Rico and came to New York when he was seven where he attended PS 77 on East 104th Street. At the age of 12 he received a scholarship to the Traphagen School of Fashion in Manhattan and then he went on to The High School of Art and Design and to FIT. As his reputation grew he collaborated with noted designer, Charles James. He created an illustrated inventory of James’ fashion designs that is now in the collection of the Chicago History Museum.

With his friend and business partner, Juan Ramos, he moved to Paris in the late sixties. This period is highlighted in large type on one wall in the museum exhibit. It reads:

In 1969, when they moved to Paris, they brought something
to Europe and to Parisian fashion that was not there before.
They loved fashion and they pushed fashion.
They brought sparkle to Paris.
Karl Lagerfeld

For me personally, the highlight of the show is a video of Lopez doing a drawing demonstration for a group of students during a lecture at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Watching him is spellbinding. I was absolutely riveted. He drew very fast, while quickly glancing at the costumed male model on his left. He exuded confidence: every stroke of the black charcoal was perfection. Then he added his exuberant colors for a daring finish. Seeing a talent like this in action is otherworldly. Awe-inspiring.

As I walked away I noticed the piece itself taped to the wall right next to where the video was showing. There it was: the real deal for the whole world to see. I loved it.

Shaun Nelson-HenrickSaveSaveSave

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