For years, Miguel and Carlos Cevallos have been making a living by painting posters of neighborhood nightclubs, taco trucks and restaurants in Queens, painting in corporate basements or at their tables and attracting customers by word of mouth.
Now, Brooklyn ice cream parlors and Manhattan diners wait their turn to pick up one of the two brothers’ colored labels. They are in demand in music stores in San Francisco, national chains of restaurants and bars in Belgium, and bakeries in South Korea.
It doesn’t matter that the brothers are over 80 years old or that the two, who were born in Ecuador and raised in Colombia, speak limited English. They hugged their new clients and painted all day long in the Manhattan apartment they had shared for nearly 20 years.
“Fate is like this. Sometimes one finds success later in life,” Carlos Cevallos recently said, while sipping tea in an empty Manhattan restaurant. The two brothers wear suits and ties, as they are every day, and share cakes.
Bebeto Matthews- AP Photo
Recent commissions have come from a bread store in Manhattan’s Little Italy neighborhood, a newsstand in Manhattan’s West Village, an Oregon-based restaurant chain, and a vegan burger shop in Los Angeles. NYCgo, the city’s official guide for tourists and New Yorkers, recently asked the brothers to paint Queens’ famous Unisphere, the giant metal globe built for the 1964 World’s Fair.
“They have a special touch, very cute and colorful,” said Marina Cortes, manager of La Bonbonniere Restaurant in West Village. “All-day breakfast for brothers!” The sign is displayed on the restaurant’s balcony.
Bebeto Matthews- AP Photo
A poster drawn by the brothers for Van Leeuwen Ice Cream reads, “A life without anything good, bad.” “Something special today. Pick any two and pay for both!” reads another they did for Regina’s Grocery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
The Cevallos Brothers’ fun and childlike posters are designed with acrylic paints, and feature large lettering and a nostalgic look. Miguel draws and Carlos colors, together they make about six posters a week.
The brothers submit five to 20 applications per week for their work.
The family moved from Ecuador to Colombia to follow her uncle who was a Catholic priest and worked in Bogota. Carlos, Miguel, and their older brother Victor have been drawing since they were children, and they opened an art studio and poster shop in the Chapinero district of Bogotá.
Victor moved to New York in 1969, Carlos joined him in 1974, and they worked for years in a studio in Times Square until a rent increase led to the switch to Queens.
In the 1980s, they painted posters announcing shows at a Queen’s Club called La Esmeralda.
“They would have paid very little per label,” Carlos said. The posters featured artists such as Mexican singer Armando Manzanero and Chilean Lucho Gatica.
Meanwhile, Miguel took care of their mother until her death at the age of 101. He moved to New York in 2005 to join his siblings. Victor, the mentor of his younger brothers, died in 2012.
Eventually, Aviram Cohen, who builds and installs audiovisual art in museums, saw the two brothers’ posters in Queens and followed them to order one for his wife’s new yoga studio. In 2018, he opened their Instagram account, cevallos_bros, which became a lifeline for the two brothers following the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I did it out of admiration for their work, and after meeting them, I understood that everything was going away. Most companies were getting rid of the labels,” Cohen, 42, said. I strongly felt that different types of people and sub-cultures could enjoy their art.”
He was right. The account now has more than 25,000 followers and has become an archive of their work, as well as a source of commands.
“I just love their story,” said Happy David, who runs the Instagram accounts for La Bonbonniere and Casa Magazines, a Manhattan newsstand that also commissioned the brothers’ work. It reminds her of the signs seen in her native Philippines.
In the digital world, “a lot of people are going back to crafts,” David said. “We want the connection, and we want to feel that there are hands that made it.”
When the Cephalos brothers were asked if they intended to retire soon, they quickly answered “No.”
Where do they get their energy?
“We eat healthy,” they answer with a smile.
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