By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
EAST VILLAGE — Street artist James De La Vega closed his St. Mark’s Place museum this week after five years in the neighborhood.
The well-know artist — famous for his simple paintings and the motivational-style messages he scrawls on sidewalks — was busy packing up dozens of works Friday as passersby stopped to inquire about his seemingly abrupt exit.
“What’s going on in the city today with the rents we’re paying, it’s just not worth it to continue in this medium,” De Le Vega said while removing dozens of canvases from his store, which also serves as a gallery of his work, near First Avenue.
“We will reinvent this thing, and it will take on another form,” he added.
The artist didn’t want to put a negative spin on his departure, noting that when his lease came up for renewal he simply decided not to continue it. He said he was surprised that he made it this long in the East Village’s increasingly expensive real estate market.
“To me, I’m just happy we made the five years here, considering the rents here are almost impossible,” said De La Vega, while covering a pile of discarded artworks he left on the sidewalk in white paint.
The East Harlem-bred artist has garnered international attention for his public murals and chalk drawings, writing thought-provoking messages like “Beauty Magazines Make My Girlfriend Feel Ugly” and creating images of an African American pope.
His museum stood out among the many bars, cafes and gift shops dotting the block, from the various artworks hanging in the window to his trademark phrase “Become Your Dream” painted colorfully on the store’s awning.
“Emptiness is just as important as presence,” De La Vega said. “Not being here will be equally a part of the message of us being here.”
The artist declined to go into specific details regarding his decision to leave, saying only that the full story would be revealed later.
“We did our time here — it’s time to move,” he said enigmatically. “There were lessons hopefully people got out of this.”
Some felt De La Vega’s departure meant a loss for the community.
“I think he’s going to leave a hole on the street, definitely,” said John Fitzcharles, 44, of Queens, who often stopped by the museum while visiting friends nearby.
“It’s unfortunate he has to move, but that’s business. It’s New York City real estate, after all.”