Complex SHOP X Neighborhood Spot: The Cevallos Brothers “L.E.S” Tee
This is the type of story that can only come to fruition in NYC. It’s a tale of 3 brothers, Victor, Carlos, and Miguel Cevallos who were born in Ecuador and moved to Colombia at a young age. Naturally endowed with artistic talents, they traveled extensively through Central America during the 1950’s, creating art and drawing characters of guests in hotel lobbies for money. They eventually moved back to Bogota and opened up their own successful sign shop. It was during this period that they developed their unique lettering and caricature style. Victor, the oldest brother, moved to NYC in 1969 and found work as an artist in a midtown gallery. He supplemented his income by painting menus for Greek diners and pizza shops around Times Square. Carlos joined Victor in 1974, and they both decided to move to Queens to service the small businesses of a growing Colombian community. After 30 years of business in Bogota, the youngest brother Miguel retired and moved to join his older brothers in NY in 2002. Victor sadly passed away in 2012, but Miguel and Carlos are alive and in their 80’s today, keeping the Cevallos art tradition alive and well.
Drop 2 of Complex SHOP X Neighborhood Spot’s collaboration features a Lower East Side t-shirt designed by the legendary Cevallos Brothers. We spoke to Aviram Cohen, business liaison for Miguel and Carlos, about the new t-shirt and the remarkable legacy of these extraordinary immigrant creatives.
The Cevallos brothers’ posters and signs are so unique and original. How did they develop this one-of-a-kind style?
The style originated with Victor who incorporated his caricature drawings and developed his own lettering styles over many years. When Miguel joined his brothers in New York City, he carefully observed Victor and learned the lettering styles. Today Miguel continues this style with Carlos doing all the color fill in and painting.
How did the Cevallos Brothers connect with Will of Neighborhood Spot for the collab Tee, and how did the design come about?
The Lower East Side design was initially a private commission by someone. Will had reached out after seeing it and asked if we would be interested in expanding the idea to other neighborhoods where the money would go towards benefitting community groups and small businesses. We really liked this idea because this is an important time for everyone to come together and help each other. Chinatown has been hit especially hard due to the racial bias the neighborhood faced at the very beginning of the pandemic. For this reason, it was the first neighborhood Will chose in our series.
2020 has been very difficult for businesses in NYC due to the Covid pandemic. How have the brothers been coping and working during this time?
Carlos and Miguel are in their early and mid eighties which places them in a high risk category. Most of their clients before the pandemic were in Queens in the neighborhoods of Corona, Elmhurst, and Jackson Heights. This area was one of the hardest hit in the earlier days of NYC's shutdown. Some bar owners and managers they had worked with for years have unfortunately passed away. Many places they serviced closed. This put them in a difficult spot. It was at this time when we pivoted from using their social account as a documentary platform to one where new commissions can be taken in and prints can be sold to support them. This helps keep the brothers safe by limiting the person to person exposure as well. They are also able to work from home and we can ship posters anywhere in the world.
Is there any message of hope and resilience that the brothers will like to share with the residents of NYC?
Family is everything to Carlos and Miguel. They have been through a lot but their source of strength is in their ability to stick together and work with each other. This idea extends beyond their immediate relationships. It was their community that gave them the opportunity to dedicate their lives to creative work. Family, community, New Yorkers coming together, they believe this is how you get through hard times. By having faith in each other and the hope for new beginnings.
Shop Drop 2 of Complex SHOP X Neighborhood Spot here.
Follow the legendary Cevallos Brothers on IG at: @cevallos_brothers