José Luis Vílchez was born in 1981 in Leon, Nicaragua. He migrated to Miami in 1998, where he ran an embroidery and screen-printing business for ten years. After ten years in Miami, he decided to change his life by leaving everything behind and fulfilling his lifelong dream of traveling the world.
Vílchez left Miami with little money and an ambition to know the world through the lens of his art. For two and a half years he traveled throughout Europe, Asia, North and Central America, and Africa. To finance his travels, he played the saxophone in the streets and made paintings which he sold along the way.
After two and a half years on the road, Vílchez returned to the United States to pursue an education in the fine arts. He started his college career at age 28 and graduated in May 2015 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. During his time at SAIC, he studied and experimented with many mediums, including painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, and printmaking.
After graduating from SAIC, Vílchez began a year of travel funded only by the $3000 sale of his BFA painting. He regarded the journey as an art practice, using photography to document specific subjects with the intention of using the new material for future exhibitions. By the end of the journey, Vilchez had visited a more than seventy countries in four continents.
In 2016, Vílchez moved to Guangzhou, China to co-found the Lido Art Center with fellow SAIC alum, Daisy Li. There he directed the Lido Artist Residency Program, provided master classes and artist talks, conducted portfolio reviews for students seeking acceptance to the world’s top art schools, and helped Lido build relationships with top US-based art schools. His work has been shown in galleries in the United States, China, India, Nicaragua, and Romania.
In 2017, Vílchez co-founded the Art We There Yet initiative with his partner, songwriter Cora Rose. A massive undertaking, the pair are traveling across North, Central, and South America over the course of five+ years, providing free arts programming in underserved communities and building a portfolio of visual art and recordings inspired by diversity across the Americas.