On the 3300 block of North 5th Street, there is a small but wondrous destination for people from across the city – the home of self-taught artist Dino Vazquez.
Vazquez moved into the neighborhood about twenty years ago as an immigrant from Puerto Rico. Ever since then, he’s worked attempting to fix up his home while he worked on his pieces of art inside the home. Vazquez’s art has involved drawings and robotic assemblages that he constructs from discarded materials his finds and brings home.
“There is a reason the renovation of my house has taken so long,” Vazquez said, with a smile on his face. “I try and do too much at once.”
Not only does Vazquez work on pieces of art at his home, but he also takes a lot of time to work on cars that he was able to find for very little money.
“Cars were my first love,” Vazquez said. “I have been working on cars since I was a little kid. It’s also how I made my money when I first got here.”
The house Vazquez lives in on North 5th Street is a work in progress, but none-the-less is an impressive sight from inside and outside. The 1959 Volkswagen Beetle he is working on is in his living room and is visible from the large viewing window that looks out onto the street. He also has another shell of a 1955 Volkswagen Beetle that he plans on working on next, “I love Beetles,” said Vazquez, “and I was able to get these for very cheap.”
On April 19th, works by Vazquez were showcased at Taller Puertorriqueno, a cultural center at 2721 North 5th St. in Fairhill. Many people from within and outside Fairhill came to view this artist’s many unique robotic models. The exhibit is called “Futuro Metalico” and will ru in the Lorenzo Homar Gallery on the second floor of Taller.
“I think Dino’s work is great,” said Joan Sauvion, a woman who owns a store in the neighborhood, “We’re so into recycling and giving things a new use. His work takes things that would normally be discarded as trash and forms it into something new and great.”
Sauvion also said she thought that Vazquez’s art had a lot in common with a program that is also running out of Taller called CP Lab. Specifically, she cited the project being headed by Ariel Vazquez called “Lost Lots.” The goal of that project is to find vacant lots and try to put them to better use.
“It really makes you look at things differently,” Nestor Tamayo said about the art of Vazquez. Tamayo, who lives only a block away from Taller Purtorriqueno, and works as a visual arts intern at the center, said Vazquez;s work “makes you reconsider the nature of junk and it’s uses. I think it’s very unique and amazing that Dino took this stuff that people view as trash and made something really great out of it.”
Tamayo talked pleasantly about the notoriety of Vazquez’s house the neighborhood.
“It is a destination spot for a lot of people in the neighborhood. I’ve driven by it many times and just enjoyed looking at the robots he has there in the window,” Tamayo said. “I never went in before, though. I never knew Vazquez until today, but it was great to have a place not so far away where you could go and view something so unique and creative.”
Linda Waters was the person who had happened to discover Vazquez’s work during a trip down to the neighborhood to visit a friend.
“Dino lived on the way to where I was going and I saw all these robots in the window,” Waters said. “I knocked on the door and talked to him and asked him where he was showing and he said he hadn’t ever been in a gallery before. I told him that was about to change.”
Waters connected Vazquez to others in the city who were involved in the art scene and she convinced him to showcase his works. “I have a friend who owns a gallery on Chestnut Street and I told him, ‘you have to come down to North 5th Street and see these things.’”
After that exposure, it was only a matter of time before Vazquez was being showcased and viewed by people throughout the city. With all of this success, Vazquez remains very humble and thankful for his development as an artist.
“I am very lucky,” Vazquez said. “I never went to school for this stuff. I’m not formally trained or any of that and someone just happened to discover me. A lot of people go to school and spend a lot of money.”
He also likes his neighborhood and doesn’t entertain the thought of leaving despite the fact that he admits that it isn’t perfect.
“Even with the people that hangout on my step and yell whenever a cop rolls down the street, I love this neighborhood. I don’t think I would ever leave,” Vazquez said. “It has a special place in my heart.”