CARTWHEEL Interview: Roy Gonzalez

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Even in Orange County, it’s a rare experience to stand on the beach with someone who is as much “of the ocean” as Roy Gonzalez. The artist has spent so much time on the sands of San Clemente, Dana Point, and Laguna Beach that he speaks in tune with the waves rolling in. Most of the time, he hardly reacts to their perfection like I do, while at other times he seems to take notice of the ocean more than anyone — kicking off his sandals, burying his feet in the sand and bounding around like a kid going,

This is it! Here we are! This is my office!

Roy is a legendary surf artist whose work was showcased in the Laguna Art Museum exhibition “Kustom Kulture: Von Dutch, Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth, Robert Williams and Others” in July 1993 and was creator of the 1990 Surf Crazed comic series (along with Salvador Paskowitz). More recently, Gonzalez created a series called Monster Island, and is now at work on a seaside mural at the Laguna Riviera Beach Resort in Laguna Beach. This allows him to have both feet in the sand while working, sit surrounded by cups of paint in warm California colors (one of his favorites is sunshine yellow), shaded out of view from beach strollers by a leafy tree, as he memorializes the story of the beach town’s characters. One of them is the Greeter, a well known Laguna Beach resident, beloved by locals who waved newcomers into town from a street corner for 33 years in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Gonzalez explains that a viewer can stand at either end of the wall, or stand on the staircase above it or on the sand below it, and the Greeter’s eyes travel with you. I visited Roy at the mural recently, then sat down with him at a Dana Point tavern to pull more art stories from him.

Tell us about the mural that you’re painting at the Laguna Riviera Beach Resort.

This is California art at its most legit. I’m painting the history of surfing and Laguna Beach at one of the original spots in town–I used to sneak into the pool here in fourth grade. This is the heart and soul of Orange County. It’s my heart and soul because I lived it. But everyone can look at the wall and see something different.

I’m painting this, but the ghosts of Laguna are helping out too–it’s crazy, I’m out here at night, and I feel things shake. I know how things happen [on the wall] but sometimes I’m not sure how they happen exactly.

Let’s talk about some of your amazing illustrations, starting with Aloha from Hell.

I’ve done a few Aloha from Hells, but that was the concert poster for the “Aloha from Hell Tour.” That was pretty much the grandpa punk tour where we went from San Diego to San Francisco and grabbed D.I., Fear, TSOL, everybody–it’s like a revival trip. Skateboarding had come back, and I had just come back–I had been gone living on a reef in Costa Rica. You know you’ve done a good poster when it gets ripped off. We put the posters up and they were gone. You know, if I saw a cool poster, I’d take it. Everyone got so pissed off like, fuck, all the posters are gone! As an artist I’m like, ‘Cool.’ This is a new generation of punk rock kids and I’m backstage with Gentleman Jack and Ron Emory. And the tour came back to my backyard. There were helicopters, it was on Channel 7 news–they asked me to walk outside because it was too loud, and next thing I know I’m cuffed in Orange County jail.

Was this in the 90s?

No this was two thousand-something. Punk Rock was ’70s, and this was the grandpa punk tour. But the kids were so stoked. They were like, No way – TSOL! Fear! So that was the poster for that.

One of my favorite pieces of yours is Attack of the Killer Waves. What was it created for?  

That’s one I did for Fox Television. The guy called me up just like Kort did [from Laguna Riviera] and said, ‘Roy, I know you. We played little league together. Let’s do a cartoon. We’re doing an artist series.’… And I beat everybody. They called me back and said, ‘Roy, do you understand? You’re in the top five.’ And I go, ‘What?’ And they go, ‘The Broadcast Design Awards.’ And I said –

[Our server comes to take our order].

Come on, loosen up, kid, get a drink. Do you have happy hour? Do you have little snacky wacks? I’m Irish by the way… Ahi salad, that sounds good. My mother’s a famous concert singer from Ireland. I’m as Irish as it gets. So Irish do Ahi poke? I don’t trust an Irish man making poke.

So you’re Irish and–?

And Mexican. You should see the pictures. A sea of black hair at Chavez Ravine in Frogtown [in Los Angeles]. And there’s this red-haired lady with green eyes in the middle of all these Chicanos. And guess what, that’s what I came from.

When did you move to San Clemente, where you grew up?

I was probably eight or nine years old when we left L.A. We kept going south. My dad engineered power plants–Terminal Island and stuff. My sister’s a teacher and I’m an artist, and I look at my dad and I go, Dad–I don’t even know how you think about all this. So anyway that’s what got us down to the coast–and saved my life.

[The server approaches so we glance at the menu].

Irish Nachos [laughs]. That’s who I am.

[We end up ordering calamari.]

Did we finish the background story of Attack of the Killer Waves?

Before Fox called, it just so happens that I had already been at Warner Brothers to talk about doing a cartoon series….They had all my comic books out–the one that Cindy [Schwarzstein, CARTWHEEL founder] and I did together — and they go, ‘Can you draw like Roy Gonzalez?’ I’m looking around like, ‘Is this a joke?’ And they’re all serious, all suits. … So me and a friend started on our own flash program doing animation together. We ended up having a gallery in Laguna. So I had it in my marble when Fox called me, I go, ‘Oooo, I know exactly what I want to do.’ We got together with animators and did Attack of the Killer Waves. So then I got this call,’You’re in the Top Five.’ It was in an ad campaign in magazines and broadcast on television. My narcissism didn’t last that long. I was like ‘Cool!’ and forgot about it. A month goes by or whatever and my girlfriend’s like, ‘You won!’ I won gold for the piece and I won silver for the animation. It was big gigantic trophies. It looked like the coolest trophy you’ve ever seen in your life. Like winning an Oscar as an artist. That’s what it was. All of a sudden the phone starts ringing off the hook… I couldn’t wait to touch my trophies. But… now when you go to Fox, my two trophies are there. I’ve never even seen them, never touched them, never felt them.

What’s the award called?

The BDA – Broadcasting Design Awards.

Tell me more about doing the animation.

I did the cells. I’d draw it, draw it, draw it–because if you don’t surf, you don’t get it–and they’d fill it in between. But if it’s wrong, I’ll say, no, you don’t make a turn like that…

How did you create Johnny Monster?

Johnny Monster, that’s my guy. That’s my favorite guy… Johnny Monster and the Nightmares [the 1980s cult punk band comprised of Gonzalez’ friends including David Paskowitz] …was too cool to just be on paper. “Extreme Sports” didn’t exist back then. Surfing and punk rock was combined. We were all cut from the same bone. We were skateboarders, we were surfers, we were rebels, bikers. Extreme sports came from that. Monster Island was a subculture island that I made up where punk rockers and jazzbos, hippies, all the subcultures combine, and Johnny Monster was the king. It’s called Monster Island, and these guys go on a surf trip and they end up in a storm, like a black hole, and they end up in a universe where there are the hippest, coolest monsters. There’s bikers, there’s hot rods–everything that’s cool–everything your parents didn’t like, that I like–surfing, music, punk rock, hippies, death metal.

When Nike 6.0 wanted me to do [a show at Motel No-Tell in 2009] I said, ‘All right I’m getting Johnny Monster back together.’ Everyone’s like, ‘You’ll never.’ Thirty years later they got back together for a Nike show–it was pretty classic. Guys were showing up in their old school leather Johnny Monster jackets.

Is The Cave part of Monster Island?

Yeah that’s the Beachniks. That’s the jazz part of it. Instead of Dizzy Gillespie it’s Dizzy Ghoulespie.

Does every monster character have a name?

It’s Hell-vis instead of Elivs. The leader of the biker gang is Gnarley Davidson. The Hot Rod guy is Von Doom. It’s just like I grew up — the bikers wanted to kill us when we were kids. I’m not kidding.

CARTWHEEL Street & Outsider Art Pop-Up Show
March 21-24, 2013
Opening Reception Thurs., March 21
1553 N. Cahuenga Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90028

Top image: Roy Gonzalez on the sand at Laguna Riviera Beach Resort, Dec. 2012

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