Event Coverage: Panel Discussion & Closing Reception “CALIFORNIA LOCOS: SoCal Originals – Masters of Style”

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The “CALIFORNIA LOCOS: SoCal Originals – Masters of Style,” panel discussion, that took place during the closing reception at Eastern Projects Gallery, was a standing room only affair.  Lead by Artist, original LOCOS member and co-curator of the exhibition, Chaz Bojórquez, this discussion was food for the soul, for any graffiti or contemporary art fan, an insight into the origins of the art movement, CALIFORNIA LOCOS, they claim as theirs, ours.

The first part of the panel was made up of the original CALIFORNIA LOCOS, members: John Van Hamersveld, Dave Tourjé, Gary Wong, Norton Wisdom, and the moderator Chaz Bojórquez. It was followed with Robert Williams, Mister Cartoon and SLICK as the extended LOCOS who were part of this exhibition.

With just six weeks from conception to opening, Bojórquez and his wife, Christina, conceived of this exhibition, having noticed the lack of knowledge about Southern California Style, abroad.  Bojórquez described the LOCO’s movement as the “facet of a lifestyle,” which includes performance art, Retro Regal, East End, the California flavor, “like a Garage Band.”  He went on to thank all the artist and collaborators whose hard work made the exhibition a success, and announced a new CALIFORNIA LOCOS book, being released in February, at the 2018 MOCA Book Fair.

Dave Touré, known as the ring leader of the “CALIFORNIA LOCOS,” spoke of how the “LOCOS,” as they call themselves, came to be.  Raised in North East LA, he found the 60’s and 70’s inspiring, with hot roads, low riders, surf, skateboard, punk rock and gang members, the visual landscape.  Here, a voice was being developed, a narrative of these influences.  Showing in 2001 at the Oceanside Museum, then on to the Riverside Art Museum, Tourjé felt the movement start to take shape in 2011, when the Pacific Standard Time initiative was started.  Assembling a panel discussion, taking on the art after 1980, Dave Tourjé called on his Chouinard Art Institute contemporaries and the “CALIFORNIA LOCOS” was born.

John Van Hamersveld, best known for his iconic movie poster “Endless Summer” was involved with surf culture and publishing before his sojourn into Chouinard.  His fascination with Andy Warhol, how media worked, the materials and animation created, led him start the Pinnacle Group, where with a Starkist Tuna Startup Grant, and two partners, Van Hamersvel was charged with the visual communication of the company where his design work with bands and movies informed the visual landscape of the time, whose impact you still see today, around the world.

Gary Wong, a proud product of Los Angeles, grew up on 21st street in the 50’s, before freeways, with the freedom of trolley cars.  He is from the East Side, which was East of Main, to the river.  Steeped in the inclusive Beatnik culture, Wong regularly escaped to Museums and snuck out to see music, across LA.  “Chouinard changed my life,” said Wong, and he was the only one to stick with it and graduate.

“Why was I there?  To Boil it down.  What was it the painter saw?  What was the painter thinking about?”

As active in music as painting, Gary Wong has been in Los Angeles all along, playing, painting.

“What’s it all about?  Damn, we’ve been here.  It’s either good, or it don’t hold up.”

Having taken part in performance art in Las Vegas, in response to the recent tragedy there, Norton Wisdom’s artwork is intrenched in feeling the world.  At Chouinard from a young age, 14, his teacher, artist John Altoon, inspired him to experience life beyond the studio by calling someone in Hiroshima.  To feel for the world, and for him “Art is handcuffed to humanity…. It somehow makes humanity realize its value.”  By 1981 Wisdom was painting in a punk band, and his activism lead him to painting a mural on the East side of the Berlin wall, after which, he was arrested by the West German police, on his way back into the “free” side.

“Beauty is essential to the human being,”

he said.

The microphone made its way back to Chaz Bojórquez, where he said they are all interconnected, interwoven and stand on their own credentials and that one has to put your voice out there.

“What we create in between us, that’s what keeps us exciting, that’s what we do.”

As Bojórquez went over the impetus and criteria of this exhibition, he spoke of a recent trip to Rome, where collectors knew about the New York Graffiti movement, yet they did not know the California Graffiti movement.  There were several criteria for being considered for this exhibition, beyond the original five members.  First, they had to be that person, to embody the East LA lifestyle, defined by them as the skate, graffiti, tattoo, low rider, hot rod vibe.  Second, they had to be good artists.  Third, they must be world famous, i.e., huge social media followings, and fourth, they must be influential, the ones people copy.

Robert Williams, perhaps the cornerstone, Shepard Fairy aka OBEY, Estevan Oriol, RETNA, SLICK and Mister Cartoon, where the chosen few.

An “Incontinent Imagination” is how Robert Williams described himself.  Comic books, B movies, lured stuff, makes life rich with texture, for Williams, who was in art school in 1963, when Abstract Expressionism had taken over everything having to do with art.  His type of “realism” was nowhere on the radar.  Creating his own niche market for works, soon he collaborated with the custom car builder Ed Roth, where he engaged his “psychedelic period.”  Zap Comics came next, and he was released of all regulations in pursuit of “how wild can you be.”  Punk rock arrived and then low brow, which he wrote a book about, and then started Juxtapoz Magazine, giving a voice to hundreds, of artists being completely overlooked by the mainstream art magazines out of New York.

“There are no rules.”

Mr. Cartoon was born in downtown Los Angeles and then moved to the harbor area, San Pedro and Torrance.  Totally wild about karate and Kung Foo guys and outfits, he was obsessed with the martial arts.  Cartoon’s dad owned a print shop, having worked his way up from shop boy, floor sweeper.  His mom would show him how the artwork came in, with reverence.  Both encouraging art as a viable livelihood for him, although never having pursued it for themselves, with lithography, they brought others work to light.  Mr. Cartoon spoke of his finding his first Hustler Magazine, blown away, he went on to illustrate for them.  He explained the use of Old English type, and how it related to the graffiti world … how he was turned onto the fact that everything important was written using this font, from certificates of graduation to the Bible, and now, tattooed as a necklace around someone’s neck.  The blue-collar aspect of tattoo’s and graffiti were something that drew him to these artforms.  Back to karate, the place his dad dropped him off, to learn martial arts, who he printed cards for, was related to the “Candy Man of Glendale,” where the coolest custom vans were being painted, and airbrush became his favored creative tool.  Onto the LA Trade College, Ed Roth, airbrushed pinstripes, t-shirt, he was humbled every time he saw something new.  Painting murals, illustration in magazine, creating album covers and tattooing the bodies of musicians and celebrities, the hottest of current American culture, Mr. Cartoon modestly attributes much to who you know, as to how you get along.  He further encouraged the audience to

“surround yourself with people on the same mission.”

Originally from Hawaii, SLICK came to LA on a promise to his family, there would be no more graffiti, seen as macho vandalism, rather than art.  The promise didn’t last, although he proceeded with his photo realism and airbrush style, while going to Otis Parsons and finishing at Art Center.  Yet graffiti changed the way it was, how painting had been perceived.  It changed where it came from, “a heavy gang influence.”  The colors he used came from airbrush work he was seeing, and digging, as “so out there,” and mentioned Robert Williams, as all the other artists had, as a huge influence and green light, just to go.

“You keep doing what you do – find your path.”

His path is graffiti images, branding with products, clothing.  He mentions his early start with Crazy Shirts, while still in Hawaii, and how he learned about layout and branding and has always engaged in product making, as an extension of his artwork.

As the original CALIFORNIA LOCOS came and sat with the current cast members, Chaz Bojórquez opened the floor to questions.  The first and only came from the renowned Los Angeles Art Critic Peter Frank who was asking where women, LGBT and other minorities fit into this art movement, CALIFORNIA LOCOS?

Chaz Bojórquez’s left it at,

“I challenge them to do their own show, I could not come up with a female name.”

Robert William made the case that Juxtapoz Magazine spotlights a large pool of talent, otherwise overlooked, across California and beyond.  It’s important to note; his work has given the “Original” CALIFORNIA LOCOS and the invited artists, the inspiration to free their minds and practice.  Hopefully his answer will free the CALIFORNIA LOCOS movement in the same way.

After the Panel Discussion the artists graciously signed posters from the show.  All of the LOCOS received a custom CALIFORNIA LOCOS Dusters Skateboard and signed them for each other.  With great camaraderie and goodwill,  the final group photos were taken and the doors closed for this installment of CALIFORNIA LOCOS, SoCal Originals – Masters of Style, at Eastern Projects Gallery in Chinatown.  Next up is the MOCA Book Fair, where a new CALIFORNIA LOCOS book will be available.  Included is an article by Cartwheel Art contributor, Lauren Over and photographs by Cindy Schwarzstein.  Stay tuned for more details as we get closer to the date.

See our additional Photo Coverage from Cindy Schwarzstein for Cartwheel Art here. 

Additional links about this show from Cartwheel Art:




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The CALIFORNIA LOCOS dedicated this show at Eastern Projects to Greg Escalante, the world class gallerist, surfer, publisher, champion of artists, and dedicated progenitor of the SoCal culture. They had an altar in Greg’s honor, where visitors could bring their memories, and photos, to celebrate the legacy and contributions of this titan of the Art World, whose bright and generous spirit has helped and inspired so many.

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