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Esteban Vicente

By Chuck Close

Esteban Vicente has been my critic, mentor and friend since I studied with him from 1962 through 1964. Actually he was not officially my critic. Unlike most of the faculty at Yale, who rarely saw students who were not enrolled in their classes, Esteban, in his characteristically generous manner, agreed to criticize my work even though he was not obligated to. He was thoughtful, generous and open-minded. Unlike many of his generation who were bitter and angry about the increasing attention given to the Pop and Minimal tendencies supplanting the previously dominant role Abstract Expressionism played in the art world, Esteban was open to and unbothered by change.

Movie star handsome, elegant beyond belief, and an extremely natty dresser (especially in contrast to the scruffy attire of the rest of the faculty), all the women students immediately fell in love with him. The male students were jealous.

In the late ’60s when I began to show my early black and white portrait paintings, Esteban was especially supportive. Again, this was in marked contrast with some of the other faculty from Yale.

I was fortunate to recently see a large selection of his paintings at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. His luminous canvases from all periods of his career looked substantial and consistent and really held up. Spain, the country of his birth, gave him recognition in the form of its Gold Medal for the Arts presented by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, and his own museum in his birthplace of Segovia. This much-deserved attention has yet to be matched by his adopted country.

Esteban and I remained friends for the rest of his life often visiting each other’s studios. I have trouble accepting the fact that I will no longer see him taking his early morning walk down Route 27 towards Bridgehampton’s Candy Kitchen for his breakfast and paper, or painting in his studio while his beloved wife and partner, Harriet, worked in her nearby garden.

I miss him greatly.

Read by Kurt Vonnegut at the Academy Dinner Meeting on November 8, 2001.

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