If Southern California is hot rod heaven, then the National Hot Rod Association Motorsports Museum at the Pomona Fairgrounds is Nirvana. And on Saturday, August 11, the living god of hot rod art, Robert Williams, makes an appearance at the NHRA Museum for a discussion with curator and hot rod historian Greg Sharp as part of a special pop-up exhibition of Robert Williams’ Prickly Heat roadster along with Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s Orbitron and Roth Shop Truck, which were influenced by Williams, along with a cruise-in of hot rods and custom cars.
Williams, of course, famously worked at Roth’s shop as the artistic director before joining Zap Comix in 1969. Twenty-five years later, he founded Juxtapoz Magazine with Greg Escalante, and along the way, he gave a name to a style of art that began in SoCal and now permeates the world: Lowbrow. (Granted, Williams prefers “feral art” to describe the style, but the first book that showcased his paintings which featured hot rods, robots, and other not-so-high-falutin’ subjects–ironically executed in the style of the Old Masters, with hand-mixed paints and layers of varnish–was titled The Lowbrow Art of Robert Williams, and the word stuck to the style.)
Williams fell in love with hot rods at an early age. His dad owned a drive-in restaurant in New Mexico and Robert got his first car, a 1934 Ford coupe when he was twelve. He studied art first at Los Angeles City College where he met his artist wife Suzanne, and then transferred to Chouinard Art Institute near MacArthur Park before beginning his professional art career.
It’s fitting then that one of the cruise-in cars will be the 1962 “Nova Loco,” owned by Dave Tourjé, who bought, restored, and lives in the house of Chouinard founder, Nelbret Chouinard, and also created the California Locos in 2011 with Chouinard alums Chaz Bojorquez, John Van Hamersveld, Norton Wisdom, and Gary Wong. Williams exhibited his artwork at the Locos’ “Masters of Style” show last year, which is where the Nova Loco made its debut. The elaborately curated and appointed ’62 Chevy Nova street rod was built with the help of Judd Wenzel of JCW Automotive and wrapped by G2 Graphics. Featuring art by all of the Locos, it was also front and center earlier last month for the launch of Art at the Rendon // Hidden Rooms, curated by Cartwheel Art founder, Cindy Schwarzstein. The Nova will be accompanied by the Locos themselves, who are proud to attend in support of Williams, citing him as a major influence in terms of art and joie de vivre. “Robert is one of the true greats, a legend in art and hot rodding, and we are thrilled to support him and the NHRA Motorsports Museum event,” said Tourjé.
Robert Williams’ paintings of hot rods are fraught with danger, peril, and symbolism. Hot Rod Race (1976) shows a grisly crash, with the cops in pursuit. His 1992 Death in the Boards involves a 1 1/4 mile banked wooden board oval racetrack once located in Beverly Hills, two cars (a Frontenac and a Duesenberg), and a man named Chevrolet. Another depicts cowboys chasing down and shooting a hot rodder who morphs into a giant amoeba-like monster. Williams’ shows in the late 1990s required riot squads to hold back crowds, and in 2015 his career retrospective at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, where as a young man he had seen a Salvador Dali exhibition, drew over 20,000 people, an all-time record for the small museum in Los Feliz. Needless to say, the NHRA Motorsports Museum event is a once-in-lifetime experience–and it only lasts one day.
The Robert Williams Pop-Up opens at 10am on Saturday. The discussion and party which begins at 5pm is part of a special fundraiser for the museum, and the $50 ticket includes a casual Mexican dinner, with $30 of ticket cost tax-deductible donation to the museum.
Robert Williams Pop-Up
Saturday, August 11, 2018
NHRA Motorsport Museum
Located on the Fairplex grounds – Gate 1
1101 W. McKinley Ave., Building 3A
Fundraiser Event Tickets:
Dinner and discussion 5pm: $50
Robert Williams painting his hot rod.
Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s Orbitron will be on display at the NHRA Museum
Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s shop truck will be at the Robert Williams Pop-Up August 11.
Robert Williams, center, with the California Locos and fellow Masters of Style. Left to right: Chaz Bojorquez, OG Slick, Norton Wisdom, Shepard Fairey, Robert Williams, John Van Hamersveld, Dave Tourjé, Mister Cartoon, Gary Wong
The Nova Loco, featuring artwork from all the California Locos, will be at the NHRA Motorsports Museum event August 11.