The Covid-19 pandemic has come to change the world and pushed us to see things from a different perspective. Life has changed and everything we were accustomed to, our usual routines, from social life to work are now very different, and we must now adapt to life in a new reality. We spoke with Wendell Figueroa Ruiz, a renowned luxury public relations executive based in New York. The changes brought about by the pandemic moved him to start a new project in the art world, the Picou Borbón gallery.
1. Who is Wendell Figueroa? Tell us about yourself
I was born in San Pedro Sula, Honduras and have lived in the New York for the past 35 years. I studied Business Administration, specializing in marketing and communications, here in New York and French Literature and Philology at Paris’ Sorbonne University. Subsequently, I earned an MBA in International Business. My passions are history, art, culture and travel; I love to read and to learn new things. Traveling is my biggest passion and I have been to more than ninety countries, both for work as well as for leisure and am fluent in five languages. I have an eye for beauty and love handmade things –from clothes and shoes to art and design objects; it is exactly what has moved me to undertake my latest project, the Picou Borbón art gallery.
My career in the world of communications and public relations has afforded me the possibility of working around the world, specializing in the luxury goods industry; I have represented several well-known brands of jewelry, watches, fashion and accessories such as: Bizzotto, Jewelmer, Lisa Nik, Lottusse, Mattioli, Portrait Eyewear, Salvatore Ferragamo, Tous and Versace, and worked for many years with the lifestyle and fashion press as well as many celebrities.
2. How has your life changed because of Covid-19?
First and foremost, work in my industry has slowed down, coming to a near halt in certain aspects. Ever since February that I went to a party in Burgos, Spain, I have not been able to travel again. Before the beginning of the pandemic, I would travel every month for work meetings, client events or for personal reasons. All of that now seems to have disappeared and it is virtually impossible to travel with the same ease as before. The brands and companies that we work with are being more cautious when it comes to investing in new projects given the instability and uncertainty that pervade around the world. On a positive note, this has allowed me to rest and spend more time at home, something that has was virtually impossible for me; I can now sleep more, read and enjoy cooking, one of my favorite pastimes.
3. How have you survived the pandemic?
I must say that I have not caught the virus though I have relatives and friends who have been quite sick; thankfully they have all recovered. I have tried to be very careful and followed all the rules dictated by the health authorities, going out only when absolutely necessary. The best way to distract myself and clear my mind has been to spend time studying and reading those books that always interested me but never had time to read and cooking; I have taken advantage of the free time to watch countless series on Netflix and prepared innumerable tasty dishes. All in all, I cannot complain as so far I have kept my spirits high and the confinement or lack of travel have not affected me emotionally as I initially thought they would. During the summer months, I was able to go hiking in the woods or riding my bike every day, and being amidst nature was of great help. Another new activity I have undertaken recently is an editorial collaboration with The Sustainable Mag, a publication that focuses on sustainability in the luxury and fashion industries, speaking in a fresher language directly to the younger generations.
4. In terms of work, where you able to continue working from home? Talk about the art gallery project.
The travel restrictions and the budget cuts of the brands we usually work with in marketing, public relations and promotional projects, have certainly impacted our work negatively bringing us to a near halt and forced us to reinvent ourselves to find new ideas that can turn into something successful. It was exactly this situation that moved me, after speaking with my friend Kenneth Alexander, to develop the idea of a virtual art gallery, very much on trend with the current times when there aren’t any events of public gatherings. One can say that Picou Borbón was born out of the need to put our time and energy to use in something with much potential.
I am proud to say that just a few months after starting the gallery we are now supporting a great initiative by the National Art Gallery of Honduras to help Honduran artists and painters who have been affected by the catastrophic destruction left behind by hurricanes Eta and Iota that ravaged their country within a ten-day period. Death and devastation are everywhere and many people have lost everything. We are happy to promote and support this worthy initiative.
It my strong belief that those of us who have been blessed in any way –be it with education, opportunities, health, good families have the moral and human obligation to share and help those who have not had the same luck. Traveling has opened my eyes and allowed me to see that, as much as we sometimes complain over little things, the life we lead in this part of the world is far better that than of millions of people who don‘t have the possibility of even covering their basic needs. We all can and should help.
5. Tell us a bit more about the gallery: What made you decide to venture into the world of art?
I have been attracted to the world of art for quite sometime, plus I have many artist friends who have been asking me to work with them, either as a manager or a merchant. Hence, the pandemic was the perfect time for me to explore this opportunity, as Rex Communications, my public relations agency, is virtually dormant at the moment; this afforded me the time to develop the Picou Borbón gallery. Every art piece that we exhibit is by an artist I have been lucky to meet in my travels around the world, or have been recommended by friends.
6. Who has been your biggest supported in this new phase?
Quite frankly, and mostly due to the fact that I have been confined at home, I did not have to seek anyone’s support for this project. Needless to say, I had that of Kenneth, my partner in this venture, as well as that of my unconditional friends. I must express my gratitude to my aunt Celia, a painter herself, who introduced me to several amazing painters, and to all the artists who hopped onboard this project the moment I started talking about it. As I say before, our desire is to work with artists from all around the world. We are currently working with:
- Adamarga, Honduran painter
- Andrea Castañeda Castro, Honduran-American painter
- Arash Groyan, Iranian painter
- Bruno Romagne, French artist
- Enrico Tognoni, Italian architect, founder of Etamorph design studio in New York
- Franca Casagli, Italian painter
- Gabriel Ortega, Colombian painter
- Keyla Morel, Honduran painter
- Kit Chirachasaikul, Thai artist
- Lisa Nik, American jewelry designer
- Mayra Casiano, Honduran painter
- Nereida Lima, Honduran painter
- Olga Volodina, Russian photographer
- Oscar Rizk, Mexican painter
- Pietro Lucerni, Italian photographer
- Robin Cerutti, French photographer
- Sacha, Spanish-American painter
- Sonal Ambani, Indian sculptor
We also work with private art collectors who are seeking to sell some of their collections; for instance, we are currently working with the Calventi collection, which includes pieces by the Dominican artists América Olivo, Gaspar Mario Cruz and the late fashion designer Oscar de la Renta.
7. Do you think everything will go back to the way it was?
Definitely, I would like to think so! Obviously, it will be a process of adaptation to not being afraid or extra careful of what we touch or what we do all the time; we must learn to lose fear and anxiety and to fully enjoy life once again. With time, and with the vaccine, we will all go back to living our lives, travel, study and work as we always have.
8. We know that you have become quite the baker; would you share one of your recipes with us?
Cooking has always been a hobby of mine, it helps me relax and clear my mind. I like all types of deserts, except those that have cinnamon. One of my favorites, which I have perfected in these months, is the olive oil cake. It is very easy to prepare. Here is the recipe (for eight portions):
Olive Oil Cake Recipe
1¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil; plus more for pan
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar; plus more
2 cups cake flour
⅓ cup almond flour or meal or fine-grind cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons amaretto, Grand Marnier, sweet vermouth, or other liqueur
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
A 9-inch diameter springform pan
Preheat oven to 400°. Drizzle bottom and sides of pan with oil and use your fingers to coat. Line bottom with a round of parchment paper and smooth to eliminate air bubbles; coat parchment with more oil. Generously sprinkle pan with sugar and tilt to coat in an even layer; tap out excess. Whisk cake flour, almond flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl to combine and eliminate any lumps. Stir together amaretto, lemon juice, and vanilla in a small bowl.
Using an electric mixer on high speed (use whisk attachment if working with a stand mixer), beat eggs, lemon zest, and 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar in a large bowl until mixture is very light, thick, pale, and falls off the whisk or beaters in a slowly dissolving ribbon, about 3 minutes if using a stand mixer and about 5 minutes if using a hand mixer. With mixer still on high speed, gradually stream in 1¼ cups oil and beat until incorporated and mixture is even thicker. Reduce mixer speed to low and add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with amaretto mixture in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Fold batter several times with a large rubber spatula, making sure to scrape the bottom and sides of bowl. Scrape batter into prepared pan, smooth top, and sprinkle with more sugar.
Place cake in oven and immediately reduce oven temperature to 350°. Bake until top is golden brown, center is firm to the touch, and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 40–50 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cake cool in pan 15 minutes.
Poke holes all over top of cake with a toothpick or skewer and drizzle with remaining 2 Tbsp. of oil; let it absorb. Run a thin knife around edges of cake and remove ring from pan. Slide cake onto rack and let cool completely. For the best flavor and texture, wrap cake in plastic and let sit at room temperature at least a day before serving.
Do Ahead: Cake can be baked 4 days ahead. Store tightly wrapped at room temperature.