Renaissance man
Reclusive local artist Ralph De Vera blends art, music and culinary

Renaissance man

Courtesy of De Vera

Stephen Sellers - 02/10/2022

Pablo Picasso once said that all children are born artists. The problem, he thought, was how to remain an artist as we grow up. For local Renaissance man Ralph De Vera, the power of discovery is what’s at the center of thriving as an artist here or anywhere.

De Vera is akin to covert British street artist and activist Banksy. He keeps a low profile socially and has virtually no digital footprint. He eschews social media, focusing on curating genuine, analog experiences like pop-up dinners, pop-art shows and community-focused drawing classes. If you encounter his work, consider yourself really, really lucky.

During the week, De Vera helps manage the kitchen of Durango’s beloved El Moro Tavern. In the rest of his time, he is a perpetual machine of creativity, making world class charcoal paintings, experimenting with mind-melting culinary techniques and writing metal/hardcore riffs on his guitar. His apartment is less a living space and more a blend of high-end test kitchen, DIY music studio and drawing space.

This last summer, a few friends and I joined De Vera for a seven-course pop-up dinner he hosted at his apartment. Hands down, I’ve never had a more inspiring culinary experience in Durango, or frankly, anywhere. It was practically a supernatural experience.

De Vera embodies the spirit of so many artists in Durango. Head down, focused on the process, doing it for the love and to leave a positive mark on the community. In the spirit of giving more space to Durango’s working-class artisans, I couldn’t wait to sit down with De Vera to discover more.

Where did you grow up?
In 2002, I moved from the Philippines, where I grew up, straight to Durango. How crazy is that?! I was 15 years old. I really didn’t have friends for a while when I moved here. I was a freshman in high school from the complete opposite side of the world. It was like living in a movie.
The first 15 years of my life, I did not care about any kind of music or media. I grew up poor. It was just game shows on the TV in the Philippines. I was basically running around the city just doing crazy, feral shit with my friends. That was more fun for me. We were doing little kid crime. Always getting in trouble. We would gamble with the little money we did have or just take off. Ride buses for hours and hours. Parents didn’t know where we were.  

When did you discover your passion and talent for visual art?
Growing up in the Philippines. I was sitting on a chair as a kid. We didn’t have couches or anything. I was sitting in the corner, and my uncle was watching TV. I was drawing things in the air with my finger. If I drew a circle, I could see that circle for a few minutes. So, I would keep adding on to it. So it was like, “If I add this, it looks like a monkey.” One time, my uncle looked over to me and was like, “Would you stop doing that? You’re creeping me out! What are you doing?” But, I could seriously see these shapes floating in the air that I had drawn. I never really drew anything on paper, because we weren’t supposed to. We were supposed to use paper for learning.

It sounds like moving to Durango was a huge transition.
Yeah, moving to Durango was culture shock. I was getting bullied really hard, and that’s when I started to channel my energy more intentionally with music and art. It was super bad. I’m sure it still is. There were no campaigns about it back then. My art teachers, I told a couple of them. And they were like, “You can sit here, but you have to work. You have to pick up the paper and do the work we’re doing.” So, I started producing stuff. Charcoal, pencil, watercolor. I did all of it, so I could stay out of those classes.

What have you been working on lately?
Over the summer, I threw some pop-up dinners. These are all my creative outlets. I’m focused on three things. If I’m not doing music, I’m doing culinary or fine art. As I’m getting older, I’m starting to figure out the flow and the understanding that I don’t need to impress anyone. All this stuff is to take care of my mental health and my physical health.

Where do you get your inspiration?
That’s the biggest and hardest thing about being creative. It feels cocky to say, but yourself is your biggest inspiration. If you’re sad and down, create darker stuff. I went with charcoal early on, because I wasn’t doing well, because of bullying or relationship issues. Now, I’ve come to realize that this is just a part of me. And it’s OK. If you’re crying your eyes out, create something sad. Use your own energy to feed into that. Then, when you’re happy, you’re gonna remember that sad song you wrote, play it for someone. I guarantee you, it will pull on their heartstrings. 

You keep a pretty low profile despite producing amazing food, art and music. Why?
I like the natural discovery. When I was working at Nini’s, I’d draw small things and put them in Saran wrap and put it all over town. Like, “Here’s my Instagram, I hope you enjoy.” I’d always drop shit at the train station. It’s fun, learning and sharing.

What keeps you in Durango?
In Durango, you can do anything. It all comes down to how much money you wanna make. If you wanna make a lot of money, get noticed really fast, go to Denver. But, what makes Durango special is that I feel the love and it feels genuine. I know these people, we recognize each other. They do the same thing, so they understand how much work goes into it.

Top Shelf

The bottom of the barrel
The bottom of the barrel
By Chris Aaland
08/19/2021

 After 14 years, ‘Top Shelf’ hangs up the pint glass

Back in the groove
Back in the groove
By Chris Aaland
07/29/2021

Local favorites the Motet return for KSUT’s Party in the Park
 

Belly full of wood, mountains full of ukes and Ridin' into Telluride
Belly full of wood, mountains full of ukes and Ridin' into Telluride
By Chris Aaland
07/08/2021
Cootiegrass 2021
Cootiegrass 2021
By Chris Aaland
06/24/2021

Highlights – and lowlights - of a return to Town Park

Read All in Top Shelf

Day in the Life

Bottoms up!
Bottoms up!
By Stephen Eginoire
05/27/2021

With this year's runoff more like a slow bleed, it is easy to let one's whitewater guard down. But remember: flips and swims can happen any place at any time. 
 

Cold comfort
Cold comfort
12/17/2020

Seeking solstice solace in the dog days of winter

A Grand escape
A Grand escape
By Stephen Eginoire
11/19/2020

Pandemic fatigue? Forget the world with three weeks on the Colorado

The living museum
The living museum
By Stephen Eginoire
10/15/2020
Read All in Day on the Life