Sacramento’s young artists are struggling. They complain often that collectors here are cheap and too conservative in their taste. Many have far more success selling their work in Los Angeles than they do in their own city.
“We take them for granted because we know them,” said Steve Hansen, who represents the central city arts hub on the City Council. “But we have to celebrate the people in our midst who are doing amazing things. We have to walk the walk.”
With that in mind, we bring you Jose Di Gregorio.
Di Gregorio is on the verge of the kind of big break that makes an artist’s career. Next month, from Dec. 2 to 6, he will have his work shown during Art Basel, a major international series of exhibits around Miami. He’s also been chosen to paint a mural in Miami’s trendy Wynwood Arts District during that week, joining some of the world’s best-known street artists.
Di Gregorio is an artist’s artist. His friends say he’s earnest and hardworking. He’s 42 years old, comes from a humble background and is the dad of two daughters – all attributes that seem to give him a healthy dose of perspective.
“I’m at a place where I couldn’t be happier riding the wave I’m riding,” he said this week at his apartment/studio at the Warehouse Artist Lofts on R Street. “If I was in this trying to get rich, I’d be a fool.”
Di Gregorio was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in Woodland. He was a terrible student – “a miserable kid” – at Woodland High School, drifting through his teen years without direction. He got into an Advanced Placement art class, but it didn’t stick.
His father worked in a factory and his mother was a janitor at his school. “Art,” he said, “was something other people did.”
Then, in his 20s, Di Gregorio moved to Santa Cruz, where he “took a lot of bad photos and wrote a lot of bad poetry.” He traveled around the world and enrolled at the Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis. He studied in France. He went to Havana.
“I forged my path,” he said.
That path eventually led back to Sacramento in 2006. His style of painting geometric designs and nightscapes is well known in the local arts community. His work is on display in a few public spaces around town, including the rebuilt McKinley Park playground and Portuguese Park in the Pocket. In the coming weeks, Ruhstaller Brewery will start selling bottles featuring a design of his.
But perhaps the local work he’s most proud of is a mural he recently finished in the schoolyard at Leataata Floyd Elementary, a school in Upper Land Park where most of the students live in nearby public housing. Commissioned with the help of Hansen and city school board member Jay Hansen, the mural is showing kids at the school that art is an option.
“A lot of these kids don’t even think about the future,” Di Gregorio said.
That wall in the schoolyard could become even more valuable after the first week of December, when the man who painted it has his work on display next to some of the art world’s biggest names at a conference that draws 70,000 people.
It’s a lesson that for artists, the struggle can be worth it. Di Gregorio said he tells himself that every day.
“What the hell can I do to never stop,” he asks himself, “to never stop doing the thing I love?”
It’s landed him a big spotlight in Miami. Maybe one day, more people around here will start noticing, too.