Awesome Men Throughout History: Arturo Vega
The world lost a great artist recently, and a distressingly large percentage of the world doesn’t realize it. Arturo Vega, who was the Ramones’ guardo camino throughout their career, died a few days ago at age 65. He was, in his own humble way, responsible for a lot of that band’s legacy; as a designer, mentor, patron, friend, and record-keeper, Arturo helped the Ramones through a lot of rough patches and helped solidify their image, which effectively started punk rock as a musical style and movement.
So yeah, I’d say he’s an Awesome Man Throughout History. I mean, not just anyone can wear pants like these and get away with it.
Arturo was born in Mexico, but came to America in the 1970s and settled in New York, which was a lot like The Warriors back then, only with less color-coordinated gangs and more random violence and urban squalor. Arturo lived in a Bowery loft apartment in what had been an old plastic flower factory, and was an aspiring painter when he met the Ramones, who were just a couple of goons from Queens trying to start a band. They asked him to help them out, and being a generous guy, he said yes.
His answer was the start of a collaborative relationship that lasted more than two decades, and it turned his modest loft into a boarding house for wayward hipsters, since the Ramones lived there for a while as they built their reputation around New York.
During this time, Arturo designed the band’s now-famous presidential seal logo, which was inspired by a trip to Washington DC. “I saw them as the ultimate all-American band,” Arturo said about his design process. “To me, they reflected the American character in general—an almost childish innocent aggression.” Because of that, the eagle in the logo is holding an apple tree branch and a baseball bat, which was also a nod to guitarist Johnny Ramone’s love of the game.
Arturo also put together most of the band’s t-shirts and album covers, and served as a lighting technician for most of their concerts, claiming to have only missed two of them.
Beyond the Ramones, Arturo was the feature of many exhibitions and collaborative efforts, both in the United States and Mexico. Visually, Arturo’s work was very pop art and some of it is kind of dated (the candy-like, day-glo swastikas are about as 1970s as it gets without introducing paisley), but there’s a playfulness to his work that guys like Warhol were too self-important to embrace.
I’ll end with this fun video interview with Arturo Vega, who talks about his work with the Ramones, among other things. Gabba gabba hey.
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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.