Interview: “Somos Locos” on Tour with California Locos at the Manhattan Beach Art Center

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Try to describe the California Locos -consisting of Dave Tourjé, John Van Hamersveld, Gary Wong, Chaz Bojòrquez and Norton Wisdom- and you realize you’re talking about SoCal itself.
“The Locos” could translate into “The Free, “The Uninhibited,” or “The Ultra-Expressive.”

You might conclude that the Locos are the quintessence of the original and pioneering California spirit. By nature, their blend of influences and styles (surf/skate, punk music, car culture, graffiti, Hollywood, pop and high art, etc.) transcends simple labeling; they dwell outside any box. Diverse, ever-evolving, boundless in energy and scope, they brim over with warmth, passion and relevance. They’re both highly ambitious and completely down to earth. They collaborate with many, but compare themselves to none. They constantly push their boundaries; they’re their own standards to defy.

All native Californians, the Locos take their cues from the magnificent landscapes and rich environments which fostered them. Where else do laid-back stretches of beach, regal mountain peaks and hot, mysterious deserts join so seamlessly? In what other region do such varied cultural traditions intermingle? Where can you find fewer boundaries between sport, performance, music, writing and visual art?

This year’s “Somos Locos” (“We Are Locos”), the most recent celebration of the California Locos’ manifest creativity, will appropriately mark the end of winter! On March 18th from 3pm-9pm, a free public reception will be in full swing. Check out more details here from our Save the Date.

Music has been a powerful presence in the Locos’ art-making, and it seems perfect that they’ve come to collectively function more like a band than perhaps any other group of visual artists. The format of Somos Locos includes musical performances by Steve Alba’s PowerFlex 5, Charlie Chan and the SOBs, and Los Savages. Norton Wisdom will be live painting, and the show itself will go on tour to other locations.

The festivities this year will see the release of a new Dusters LOCOS skateboard design. In addition, a hardcover book will debut, featuring an introduction by art critic Shana Nys Dambrotas, and essays by art scholars Charlotte Eyerman and Jim Daichendt.

Cartwheel Art is honored to have had the opportunity to speak with the Locos, to gather more of their own perspectives: their history, progression and timeless messages from the soul of SoCal to the world beyond. Every one of them was extremely gracious and generous with their availability in response. They had a genuine openness and desire to share.

We posed the same three questions to each member:

Starting at the beginning (if we can pinpoint that!),
what’s your memory of your first encounter with the other Locos?
How did this lead into formal collaboration?

How has your personal work changed through your involvement with the Locos?

In your view, what is the most important aspect of the Southern California art scene- that you hope to take to other cities?

Dave Tourjé

We have all had loose contact for a long time. I met Wong in 1980. I quit UCSB art school and was coming off of drugs, so I took a simple job moving furniture at the Security Pacific Bank (now B of A) in DTLA. Turns out they had a world-class art collection curated by Tressa Miller, and due to my art background, I was put in charge of handling it. Wong was involved as a freelance handler. I soaked into some of the best art from icons like Woelffer, Ruscha, Irwin, De Forest and many others.

I met Norton around ’82 in the punk scene, both of us being involved in it. Namely, at the Cathay De Grande, as I recall.

During my lost weekend working at Security Pacific, I would drive home each day via the 110 freeway with my mom, who worked there and got me the job. Chaz’s “Senor Suerte” was stenciled onto the column at the 5 split and I looked at it almost every day. It was the “welcome home” sign. I grew up in NELA and knew Chaz’s work- even tried copying it- haha- but did not know him. His work had a profound effect on me, the “street” moving into such immense sophistication.

I met JVH in ’01 via Boyd Elder who did all the Eagles’ skull record covers. Since then, John and I have been in continuous collaboration, literally never being without some joint project- be they Chouinard Foundation, posters, Locos, films, etc.

We became more associated via the Chouinard Foundation, then all crystallized in a panel discussion at my art show “LA Aboriginal” in Beverly Hills, 2011. That’s where we became a “band”- haha.

I have huge love and respect for each of the Locos. I am the youngest member. They challenge me to always “bring it.” Their aesthetics are somehow infused in mine due to our synergy. They lead the way in terms of talent, experience and integrity. They force me to stay in touch with what is truly and only important in the art world – which is only the art and one’s commitment to it, no matter the price or challenges.

L.A. has always been a place of innovation. In art, usually the innovations happen here, but get recognition elsewhere due to the fickle and ephemeral nature of the L.A. art “scene.” We are not asking permission of any art world. We are making our point on its own merits, regardless of what happens or who listens. We include everyone in our experience and just want to make and show the best art we can. That is what being a “loco” is all about.

John Van Hamersveld

I was introduced to David Tourjé in 2002 at the historic exhibit opening of Surf Culture: The Art History of Surfing: Laguna Art Museum, July 28, 2002. 

I joined Tourjé’s Chouinard Foundation meetings at his famous Chouinard House, Pasadena, and the others I met through the art scene in downtown LA, or at Malibu Surfrider Beach on Pacific Coast Highway, in Southern California.

I think it was Tourjé as an artist and “Punk Rock Star” in the 80s, as we communicated in phone calls back and forth during The Chouinard Foundation meetings talking about how artists are like musicians in bands. I spoke of my thinking in the 60’s while at Chouinard/Cal Arts…how the girls in the art school would go up to the Sunset Strip and pick-up rock stars, then later dating them, bringing them to the art loft parties to see the hipster artists in their stylish arty lifestyle. I left Chouinard/Cal Arts for the Art and Entertainment culture in Hollywood and created a company called Pinnacle Dance Concerts, and met all the bands from San Francisco, Chicago, New York and London. So now, 50 years later, here I am as an artist in the Locos- that is like a band of artists. My album cover art of the 60’s and 70’s with all the top bands of the day follow me everywhere, like as the guy who knew all the rock stars then. LIKE THE LOCOS as in the band…creating new views of my art works from the past and present at the same time.

I have amassed an archive of images from the Art and Entertainment business from 6 decades of media cultures. Some of them have been “contemporized,” updated for the digital world of communication with publishing books and exposition in shows and exposure to social media. The California Locos group shows are like being in a band.

The idea of what the Chouinard/Cal Arts was in its day was quoted in the media…“Chouinard Artists…were freewheeling creative artists doing their work everywhere.”

So from Southern California, in the church of the spirit of openness, we take our ideas to “Everywhere with the past and present reflected in work we do today and tomorrow. Like the Endless Summer Poster…The sun comes up and sets every day with a sense of “DAYS OF FREEDOM IS ENDLESS.”

Gary Wong

I’ve known these guys, albeit in different settings, for ages.

Norton, since before he went to Berkeley- we met through a common friend, Ivan Hosoi. JVH, at the very least, since our days at Pinnacle.

Chaz, since Senor Suerte, I’ve known about his work. And through the street crew Second2None, including many of the younger homies that hung around Kanemitsu’s studio. Dave, since he persuaded me to come down from Sacramento to be part of the New Chouinard in South Pasadena.

Formal collaboration was a “natural progression.”

The concept gave me a pathway to understanding and defining of my place in the general scheme of things as far as my art was concerned. I felt more of a connection with my place in the underground. My feelings and perspective towards Art and Culture in L.A. and it’s relationship to what it was I was doing and trying to accomplish both as a Chinese-Korean-American and as a formally trained Artist. It gave me pause to think of where I was as a Chinese-Korean-Californian, as an Angelino, as an artist that came up through this culture and time that would have never transpired otherwise. On my own it would have taken much more time and study to come to the same realizations.

That there has and always will be artists- vital artists- that are contributory to the voice of the diverse cultures that exist here, outside or rather, alongside the machinations of the established art culture and the hyperbolic activity that surrounds it. That there is art being made regardless of the bonified art establishment, and its influence to and or from it.

Chaz Bojòrquez

I was a student at Chouinard Art Institute in the late 1960’s when I first heard about John Van Hamersveld. His billboards were an early inspiration into my own art. Record Albums were the highest forms of Pop art culture in the 60’s, and John’s work was world famous. He was on the cutting edge creating art that has endured decades that still resonate today. 

He is a cultural machine. We met briefly about 30 years ago, but only have recently become friends, with the other Locos. I see a good connection with all of our artwork, it says a lot about being from the West Coast.

What has changed with my collaboration with the Locos is my own personal insight. I like being in a group and less about exhibiting alone. My work is about people and what they believe in and say. I see my art being a text to the other Locos images and their artwork adding a vision to my voice, it works as a group.

Locos share a common life experience living in L.A. All of us were influenced by the ‘Vida Loca’ of surf, skate, hot rod, low rider, graffiti and rock n’ roll, we all grew up at the beach and went to Hollywood. Our artwork comes from the same roots but unique to the West Coast. Touring to other cities we bring a rich West Coast aesthetic in our work that’s still fresh and inspiring.

Norton Wisdom
(Quoted and narrated from a phone conversation)

“I knew Gary in the mid 60’s from Berkeley. John I knew from the surfing world.
I met Dave Tourjé in the early 80’s in the Cathay de Grande punk scene.”
Around that time Wisdom was live painting with the band Panic and Tourjé was playing with The Cohorts.

They had all inhabited overlapping circles for some time when they began to draw closer together. Norton speculates that the more recent and formal association of the California Locos emerged out of critic/historian evaluation of what was unfolding- creatively and socially- in L.A. in the 80’s.

Significant involvement with, or at least influence by, the music world was a common thread between them all.

As Wisdom put it, the LA music scene was “defeating disco,” so to speak. It was valuing “emotions over production.” It was “not opposing, but ignoring the power structure.” This was an approach they shared and were able to reinforce as a group.

The idea of one’s work being heavily influenced by fellow artists, had already been an inextricable aspect of Wisdom’s process. Exactly as it happens in music, much of Wisdom’s art was being made live and in direct collaboration with others, right on stage. The other Locos formed an additional, visual arena in which this kind of mutually responsive art could occur.

In Wisdom’s view, what made the Southern California art scene so unique, was the pervasive attitude that “we didn’t NEED an art world in SoCal. It existed outside of the ‘art world.’”

Wisdom’s final words sum up the heart of the SoCal/Locos’ consciousness. They’re an important message I think would make all of our lives more inspired if we apply:

“Non-verbal platforms for expression” abound. It’s a way of life. “It’s not about reputation or being a recognized, relevant artist.” Rather, it’s a way to be “in the moment.” It’s something “done to make life worth living.”


Images courtesy of California Locos.

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