“CALIFORNIA is a mirage … the LOCOS are a manifestation of that mirage “
by: MICHELLE DEZIEL-HERNANDEZ
Independent Curator, Art Writer
California Locos is the collective identity of Los Angeles-based artists Chaz Bojórquez, Dave Tourjé, John Van Hamersveld, Norton Wisdom and Gary Wong – the brainchild of Tourjé in 2011. Individually, these visual art pioneers are known for distinct and influential works of art that synthesize high and low art standards and blur the boundaries between fine art, street, and life.
Together, as the California Locos, this tribe of like-minded creators makes a powerful tour de force in 21st-century Los Angeles art, blending the cultures of surf, rock, graffiti, skate, and fine art into a potent reflection of their city of Los Angeles. Formed as more of an attitude than a formal art movement, the California Locos embody the innovative, lively, and rebellious spirit of postmodern Los Angeles. Their expertly crafted multi-media creations, collaborations, and performances that often spill from the galleries into the streets and vice versa speak to their unique understanding of the zeitgeist of urban art and culture today.
Asymmetrical and authentic, the California Locos are artists who create their works that are deeply rooted in their experiences growing up and living in the various neighborhoods and subcultures of postwar Los Angeles. Much like the Locos themselves, the history of art in Los Angeles is complex and not easily simplified. It is rather like an expansive tangled web with threads that shoot out in all directions at once, some converging and intersecting while some never touching at all. Each thread and its unique placement within the web tell an integral part of the story. To fully appreciate them as a group and their position within the web that is Los Angeles contemporary art, it is important to understand the context and the history of the city in which their individual threads were woven.
As far as known human occupation, the indigenous Tongva, also known as Kizh (“keetch”) settled and occupied the 4,000 square mile “L.A.” basin area approximately 7,000 years ago. Evidence exists that prior tribal cultures existed along what is now the L.A. River up to 13,000 years ago. Approximately 30 separate tribes comprised over 5,000 total population in the region, earlier migrating from the East, South and North and settling into the mild and abundant region. These tribes were known by their own tribal names such as “Azusa”, “Cucamonga”, “Topanga”, “Tujunga”, etc. – names still in use today in SoCal. These individual yet related tribes traded amongst themselves, were highly collaborative and formed a sophisticated culture until the Spanish colonization which nearly eliminated them through Old World diseases, forced conversion and the rapid degradation of their society. Since the founding of the city as “El Pueblo de la Reyna de Los Angeles” (The Town of the Queen of Angels) in 1781 by settlers of Spanish, Mexican, Indigenous and African origins, L.A. has been a destination for societal rebels – adventurers seeking newfound opportunities, rebirth and innovation. These inclinations continue to this day, with the “melting pot” running much deeper than one would ever think.
Today, the Greater Los Angeles area is comprised of more than 100 cities and stretches 34,000 square miles (54,718 km) from its valleys in the North to the canyons in the South and from its beaches in the West to the deserts in the East. It is the second largest urban center in the United States with more than eighteen million people from all corners of the world calling it home. Known as a leader in the entertainment industry for over a century, Los Angeles is now also recognized as a global epicenter for fine art. Not only does the city boast a sizeable community of prominent and up-and-coming artists, it also features an exciting array of world-class art museums, galleries, art schools, international art fairs, neighborhood art walks and temporary pop-up art experiences. The rich and diverse art scene we see today however, is not the same one experienced by the California Locos during their formative years. The “birth of now” in Los Angeles art has been a long process that began in earnest just after World War 2. This period began with the Zootsuit Riots which illuminated deep racial tensions between the White and Mexican American populations, underscoring the burgeoning post-war metropolis’ awkward movement toward its modern identity.
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM, L-R:
Los Angeles circa early 1800s;
Tongva woman, early 1900s;
Early 20th century Los Angeles;
Los Angeles, 2022
The decades of the 1940s and 50s, the period when four of the five California Locos artists were born – John Van Hamersveld (1941), Gary Wong (1944), Norton Wisdom (1947) and Chaz Bojórquez (1949) – (Dave Tourjé was born in 1960) – also saw the rise and triumph of youth culture. From cars and fashion to sports and music, youth culture permeated all aspects of American society, especially in Los Angeles with its long days, open space and mild climate. Drive-in movies, drive-up restaurants and street racing became an important part of life for car-dependent youth. Soon custom cars, lowriders and hot rods – “rolling sculptures” as they have been called, took hold. Merging life and art, the cars reflected the identities of their drivers and became powerful symbols for those seeking to rebel against the perceived conformity of the times or to otherwise liberate themselves from various social restraints. Two of the most prominent customizers of cars, hot rods and motorcycles were Kenny Howard, a.k.a. “Von Dutch” and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth. The innovative designs of these L.A. natives were highly influential within their circles and without, and certainly were on the California Locos as well. Another influential figure was Robert Williams who worked for Roth and developed his iconoclastic painting style known as Pop Surrealism. Aside from his major impact on the Low Brow art movement as a painter, he went on to help co-found the largest art magazine in the world – Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine. He is also credited with starting the “Rat Rod” movement having built the first one, these hybrid hotrods being characterized by their highly customized, deliberately worn and incomplete finishes. Outside of car culture there was Rick Griffin. Considered by the Locos as an “original Loco”, Griffin grew up with John Van Hamersveld in Palos Verdes and went to Chouinard with him and Gary Wong. He developed his unique and iconoclastic drawing style that changed the course of surf and rock graphics. He influenced Chaz Bojórquez’s style and Chaz wrote the catalog forward to the Griffin retrospective at the Laguna Art Museum’s Heart and Torch: Rick Griffin’s Transcendence show in 2007. As surfers and artists, he deeply influenced both Norton Wisdom and Dave Tourjé as well.
In the mid-1950s, rock and roll emerged as the music of adolescence, sparking a revolution in dance, fashion and cultural identity. This laid the groundwork for future street and youth-driven music genres and scenes including hard rock, punk, rap, hardcore, grunge and techno, that would have their own associated modes of dressing, dancing and lifestyles. The social upheaval of the ‘60s and hippie culture then informed the ‘70s. For the California Locos artists, art, street culture and music have always been intertwined.
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM, L-R:
Ian Glen Clark, early SoCal hotrodding, 1940s;
Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and Robert Williams;
Robert Williams in his early “Rat rod”
Robert Williams, The Word “What?” Used To
Suggest Intellectual Investigation, 2018,
Oil on canvas, 20” x 24”
Rick Griffin with Boyd Elder’s
El Chingadero poster, San Clemente, 1971
Tourjé has played music all of his adult life, his early history beginning in the late ‘70s in L.A. and Santa Barbara’s eclectic punk and blues scenes. By the mid ‘80s he played guitar in the influential underground band The Dissidents, with Melinda Mohn, Daniel Davis and Ralph Gorodetsky, landing on MTV’s Basement Tapes rotation and were acknowledged at the 1985 MTV Music Awards as one of LA’s best unsigned bands. They played shows with many other top bands such as The Minutemen, Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs, Saccharine Trust, Camper Van Beethoven and others. Tourjé also did band graphics and showed his art around the L.A. punk scene in places like the Anti Club and other underground spots. A musician and fine artist, music informs his art and vice versa in his multidisciplined “high and low brow” art practice which now includes painting, film, music, sculpture and furniture making. His 2002 Dream Kitchen show at the Riverside Art Museum, which spanned 15 years of his paintings (1987-2002), contended with the multiplicity of all these issues.
Bojórquez blazed the trail as one of the first artists to go from the street to gallery walls in L.A., concurrent and intertwined with the powerful punk and post-punk movements of the 1980s. These facts were not coincidental, but part of the same evolution, preceding the current Street Art explosion by decades and explains why he is considered the “Godfather of West Coast Graffiti.” He employed stencils in his tags decades before Banksy and others would make the technique famous, practicing his techniques in solitude on the walls of the Arroyo Seco River near Avenue 43 in Northeast L.A. His consequential influence on contemporary street artists such as RETNA, Mister Cartoon, Defer and others has been acknowledged internationally.
For Wong, music, performance and painting are interchangeable vehicles for artistic communication. His affinity for jazz and blues music is mirrored in the energetic brush strokes and calculated manifestations in his art. He is considered a legend of L.A. blues as the bandleader “Charlie Chan” and his deep involvement with the major players of the ‘60s postmodern art movements emanating from the Chouinard Art Institute speaks to his importance within them. His close involvement with the seminal artists of the 60s such as Ed Ruscha, Rick Griffin, Allen Ruppersberg, Doug Wheeler, John Van Hamersveld and others has helped underpin the origins of postmodern art in L.A. not to mention the influence of his current work.
Wisdom, as the originator of “performance painting”, developed his signature style of live painting to music during the 1980s with the punk band Panic, and has since performed with musical ensembles across the spectrum including George Clinton, Flea, Mike Watt, Llyn Foulkes and many others, yet he is also an acclaimed third generation Abstract Expressionist in his easel practice. In this regard, Wisdom is well known for his meditation on the “Proscenium Trapezoid”, some paintings taking decades to finish and which have been collected by major collectors and museums for decades.
Van Hamersveld is a legend who made a career of designing iconic album covers, logos, concert posters and more that have defined a generation, including The Beatles (Magical Mystery Tour), The Rolling Stones (Exile on Main Street) and the Grateful Dead (Skeletons in the Closet) to name only a few. In his collaboration with art dealer and curator Alida Post, he has become a leading NFT artist and public muralist which perfectly aligns to his digital approach over the last 20 years, and he is being celebrated internationally in museum venues such as his Era of Cool: The Art of John Van Hamersveld retrospective at the Westmoreland Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, 2019. His history in SoCal is cemented as one and the same having designed the iconic Endless Summer image in 1963. John Van Hamersveld with Endless Summer Nano Nóbrega and Dave Tourjé, first meeting, 2015 Surfing, which had been a popular sport in the Southland for decades, developed into a significant subculture by mid-century with its own associated music, cars, fashions and jargon. The surfing lifestyle of the Westside was especially popular in Palos Verdes and the South Bay where Van Hamersveld grew up and around Malibu where Wisdom lived. Surf culture was impactful for each of the Locos in their own ways, and its influence can be seen in their work today in various manifestations. This is especially true with Van Hamersveld, whose Endless Summer image has become the singular image that embodies surf culture internationally, and his more recent “Wave Series” which reflects his long involvement in it.
Previously used by surfers to “sidewalk surf ”, the first official skateboard was released in the late 1950s. Skateboarding and its winter parallel, snowboarding, would evolve into influential sports and subcultures over the next few decades, especially embraced by Tourjé as an original pool skater of the mid-70s and snowboarder of the early ‘80s. Each of the Locos identify with skateboarding in various ways and to this day the Locos use the skateboard as their art and communication “vehicle” through their association with skateboard design leader Nano Nobrega, via collaborations with artists like Robert Williams, Mister Cartoon, Rick Griffin and others. Nobrega and Tourjé met at the urging of Van Hamersveld in 2015, launching a non-stop collaborative relationship continuing to this day in the world of international skate. Nobrega’s involvement as Creative Director for the Locos’ “art and culture” brand has been instrumental in the success they now see internationally.
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM, L-R:
John Van Hamersveld with Endless Summer;
Nano Nóbrega and Dave Tourjé, first meeting, 2015
The culturally mixed barrios of the Eastern and Northeastern sides of Los Angeles at mid-century were home to most of the city’s Mexican American populations, White working-class families as well as Japanese Americans, Jewish and Italian Americans. Northeast L.A. is also where Bojórquez and Tourjé were born and raised, an area blending the blue collar ethos of mainly those Mexican and White cultures (Tourjé’s mother is from Mexico City). During the postwar years, Latino youth formed gangs in response to rampant racism and police brutality, but the game changed and the violence escalated as the street drug epidemic accelerated in the 1970s, with those gangs’ involvement in it. Identifying themselves as “cholos”, from the beginning the teens developed their own style of dressing, graffiti, body art and custom-designed lowrider cars. Graffiti designated gang boundaries and members, but also provided a means of accessible and immediate artistic expression. Bojórquez found beauty and inspiration in the gang graffiti of his neighborhood and in 1969 created his now iconic and first-known stencil tag, Señor Suerte (Mr. Luck) as a symbol of protection from death for gangsters in Northeast Los Angeles. Concurrently, the neighborhoods further East in East Los Angeles would become the epicenter of the Chicano art movement. Chicano artists like Patssi Valdez, John Valadez, Judy Baca and collectives like Los Four and Asco used their art to bring visibility to their culture and fight for the social justice and recognition they deserved. The pioneering art group Los Four, comprised of the renowned Chicano artists Gilbert “Magu” Luján, Robert “Beto” de la Rocha (Zack de la Rocha’s father), Frank Romero, Carlos Almaraz, and later as the fifth member Judithe Hernández, were the first Chicano art group to be shown in a major museum – LACMA in 1974.
Miles away and years before in South Central Los Angeles, the jazz and blues music scenes had thrived for decades. Known as the “Harlem of the West” from the 1920s through the 50s, this area was the heart of the African American community. This was also where Gary Wong grew up and Norton Wisdom went to elementary school. As in East L.A., the streets of South Central were ripe with violence, racial tension and discrimination but also innovative creativity. African American teens formed gangs in response to the problems they faced with the Ku Klux Klan, police and other groups. The gangs developed their own identifiable styles of dressing, speaking, body art, tags and street writing to signify their affiliations and mark their gang territories. Artists in this area such as Daniel LaRue Johnson, Alice Patrick, Charles White and others, created provocative works of protest art that documented their experiences and struggles. In the 1960s and 70s, South Central would become the West Coast epicenter of the Black Arts and Civil Rights movements, as well as for the emerging rap and hip-hop music scenes later made famous by Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and others.
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM, L-R:
Chaz Bojórquez’s Señor Suerte at Zero One Gallery, Hollywood, 1996
The mid-century fine art scene in Los Angeles, when the California Locos were growing up, has been described as a cultural desert or wasteland by critics and artists alike. There were very few art galleries or collectors and the city proper did not have a dedicated art museum until 1965. Modernity existed in Los Angeles largely in the form of architecture, design, craft and fashion. The lack of infrastructure for artists in L.A. led to many leaving the area to pursue careers in New York and Europe. This, as well as the sheer vastness of the region, served as major barriers that precluded the dominant American postwar art movements – Abstract Expressionism, Pop and Minimalism – from taking root in the same ways as they did in New York. As a result, Los Angeles was known as a place for Hollywood, Disneyland and racial violence, not serious contemporary fine art.
For those artists working in L.A., the postwar time was particularly dark. The period was marked by widespread fear of imminent annihilation by the atomic bomb
and extreme paranoia of “unAmerican” activities. Hollywood actors were blacklisted, and the display of modern art was banned by the City Council in 1951 for being “Communist propaganda.” Although this decree was largely ignored, it shows that in Los Angeles, artists were considered subversive and dangerous. Authorities were known to raid and shut down art shows if they deemed them offensive or lewd. Police raided both Wallace Berman’s landmark exhibition at the Ferus Gallery in 1957 and Connor Everts’ show at the Zora Gallery in 1964 and arrested the artists for obscenity. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art was also shut down briefly in 1966 when authorities found Ed Kienholz’s now iconic tableau, the masterwork Back Seat Dodge ’38 to be pornographic. While the artist wasn’t arrested, his work was censored. Preceding all of this in 1932, in an effort to counter the provincialism in L.A., the pioneering woman of art education Nelbert Chouinard invited the renowned Mexican mural master David Alfaro Siqueiros to teach at her Chouinard Art Institute in downtown L.A. near MacArthur Park. There, Siqueiros taught the crews that would later define the WPA mural aesthetic of the Post-Depression period. While in L.A., Siqueiros painted three controversial murals – the first was Street Meeting, painted on a wall at the Chouinard school and which was ordered destroyed by the L.A. “Red Squad” due to its “Communist” content. The second was América Tropical in Olvera Street and the third, Portrait of Mexico Today, which is currently on permanent display at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. The only one currently unsalvaged is Street Meeting which was discovered as not having been destroyed in 2005 by Luis Garza, Nob Hadeishi, Jose Luis Sedano and Dave Tourjé in a Chouinard-related effort ongoing to this day. Their team, which now includes Armando Vasquez-Ramos and Natily Gonzalez creates events like the Chouinard/Siqueiros exhibition at the L.A. Art Show in 2021 supporting efforts in salvaging the mural and the original Chouinard building. Garza has been the primary booster of the Siqueiros cause since meeting him in the early ‘70s, taking up the mantle to protect and preserve his murals in L.A.
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM, L-R:
Emerson Woelffer, Ego, 1985, Oil on canvas, 50” x 42”;
Luis Garza and Dave Tourjé signing Street Meeting prints at the Los Angeles Art Show, 2021
In the late ‘50s, Chouinard alum Frederick Hammersley along with Karl Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson and John McGlaughlin quietly helped to finally upend the dominant grip of New Yorkbased Abstract Expressionism by their presentation of “Hard Edge” painting in their landmark exhibition Four Abstract Classicists in 1959. Art went from the “unplanned” existentialism of New York Abstract Expressionism to the “planned”, thus contributing to the revolution of West Coast Pop and the other L.A.-based movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s to follow.
The ongoing climate of art persecution in L.A. also led to the eventual denouncement of the “American Way of Life” and the mainstream art world by a group of artists who became known as West Coast Assemblage artists. Associated with the Beat milieus of Topanga Canyon and San Francisco, this loosely formed group that included Berman, Kienholz and George Herms, made ephemeral assemblages, collages and tableaus. Culled from everyday objects rather than traditional art materials, their works critiqued popular culture and the notion of art as precious and everlasting. This movement was instrumental in forging the path for future avant-garde movements that used art for activism like the Antiwar and Feminist Art movements, as well as the artists forwarding performance and experience-based Conceptual Art in the 70s and 80s.
Despite the upheaval of these decades, the 1960s became a time of growth and prosperity for the arts in Los Angeles and the origin of the momentum that propelled the city into the limelight today. As with the youth culture at large, there was a general feeling of freedom and that anything was possible. For many artists, this attitude led to artistic experimentation and innovation. Both the Finish Fetish and Light and Space movements were formed at this time when artists began using industrial materials usually reserved for surfboards, cars and the aerospace industry. In Hollywood, artist June Wayne revolutionized the printmaking industry when she opened her Tamarind Lithography Workshop in 1960 and invited artists from all over the world to learn the nearly forgotten printmaking technique, including legendary Chouinard artist/teachers Ynez Johnston, Matsumi Kanemitsu and Emerson Woelffer. In 1965 Artforum magazine, co-founded by Dean of Chouinard Gerald Nordland, moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art opened as the city’s first dedicated art museum. The gallery scene boomed in the 1960s, with the iconoclastic Ferus Gallery (1957-66) at its forefront. Founded by Walter Hopps, Shirley Hopps and Ed Kienholz, the Ferus Gallery added director Irving Blum in 1958 and hosted trailblazing exhibitions, including Andy Warhol’s first solo showing of his Soup Cans in 1962, and had an impressive roster of artists. Ferus is probably best known for its stable of local artists – now known as the Ferus Gang or L.A.’s Cool School – including John Altoon, Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, Wallace Berman, Llyn Foulkes, Robert Irwin, Craig Kauffman, Ed Kienholz, John Mason, Ed Moses, Ken Price and Ed Ruscha – all pillars of West Coast Pop and most of whom attended the Chouinard Art Institute. In 1961, Hopps joined the staff of the progressive Pasadena Art Museum (P.A.M.) which was at the forefront of the West Coast avant-garde from 1954 to 1974, when it closed and became the Norton SimonMuseum. Hopps organized groundbreaking shows that not only introduced Angelenos to modern masters like Marcel Duchamp and Frank Stella, but also the legendary talent which comprised the Ferus roster.
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM, L-R:
Andy Warhol, 1985;
Andy Warhol, Soup Cans, 1962;
Terry O’Shea on motorcycle, 1969
Terry O’Shea capsules, 1968;
While P.A.M. and Ferus were displaying and promoting contemporary art, the local art schools and colleges were growing it. Each of the area’s art schools were vital artistic hubs and critical to the history of art in Los Angeles, however the school central to this history was the Chouinard Art Institute.
Established in Downtown L.A. in 1921 by Nelbert Chouinard, the multi-disciplined art school was a mecca for artists near and far for over 50 years, after which it was reorganized as CalArts and moved to Valencia, Ca. in 1972. Chouinard offered students access to influential artist/teachers and an environment of free thinking that allowed for essential cross-pollination of like-minded individuals. Every major 20th Century fine art movement in L.A. had ties to Chouinard and its contribution to contemporary art history was staggering. Some categories and names of these movements include but are not limited to: Painting/Pop Surrealism (Llyn Foulkes, Ynez Johnston, Sandra Fisher, Robert Williams), Hard Edge (Frederick Hammersley, Lorser Feitelson), Printmaking (Corita Kent, Matsumi Kanemitsu, Nobuyuki Hadeishi), Surf/Rock (Rick Griffin, Boyd Elder, John Van Hamersveld), Muralism (David Alfaro Siqueiros, Millard Sheets, Phil Dike), the Light and Space and Finish Fetish movements (Terry O’Shea, Ron Cooper, Judy Stabile, Robert Irwin, Mary Corse, Larry Bell, Ken Price, Doug Wheeler), West Coast Pop (Ed Ruscha, Billy Al Bengston, Joe Goode), Conceptualism (John Baldessari, Allen Ruppersberg, Terry Allen, Jack Goldstein), Graffiti (Chaz Bojórquez), Performance (Hirokazu Kosaka, Norton Wisdom), Assemblage (Wallace Berman, Ed Bereal, Noah Purifoy), Ceramics (Vivika Heino, Otto Heino, Jun Kaneko, Peter Shire, Ralph Bacerra), Sculpture (Guy Dill, Daniel LaRue Johnson, Laddie John Dill), California Watercolor (Mary Blair, Rex Brandt, Robert Perine, Barse Miller) among others and not even to mention Animation and Design in all forms.
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM, L-R:
Chouinard, Chouinard House, 1938;
Original Chouinard School, 1930s;
Chouinard School of Art under construction in South Pasadena, 2002;
Chouinard House, 2022;
Born too late to attend Chouinard (attending Art Center and UC Santa Barbara), Tourjé became affiliated with Chouinard by virtue of reinvigorating its renowned influence after buying a 1907 estate home in South Pasadena, not knowing the significance of its prior owner Nelbert Chouinard, and in 1999 founding the Chouinard Foundation with Robert Perine and original Board members Nobuyuki Hadeishi, Lou Paleno and Chuck Swenson. The home became a Cultural Landmark in 2000 and was the central meeting place for the Foundation for the next 15 years. Tourjé founded the California Locos in 2011 as an outgrowth of the Foundation, having connected or reconnected with Bojórquez, Van Hamersveld, Wisdom and Wong, all of whom attended the original Chouinard school and who were on the Foundation’s original Advisory Board. Like most Chouinard alumni, Bojórquez, Van Hamersveld, Wisdom and Wong cite their time and experiences at the original school during the 1960s and 70s as being life-changing and career-defining. They agree that the vacancies left by Chouinard and P.A.M. when they closed were felt deeply throughout the city. The general feeling of disillusionment during the 1970s was palpable. The leaders of ‘60s counterculture were gone – Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and others. The country was still at war with Vietnam despite anti-war efforts and the art scene was drying up. The galleries had mostly closed, and Artforum had relocated to New York. Artists challenged the primacy of traditional art forms and systems at this time by taking their work outside the galleries and museums. Their anti-aesthetics came in the form of performance, demonstrations, street art, body art, earthworks, video and installation. After the Chouinard school moved, the old Chouinard building became home to the Woman’s Building which forwarded the Feminist Art movement led by Judy Chicago, Sheila de Bretteville and Arlene Raven. The punk music scene emerged at the end of the ‘70s as a new form of expressing opposition to established norms and quickly spilled into the worlds of contemporary art, skate and surf. The vibrant L.A. punk scene was documented by Penelope Spheeris in her landmark documentary The Decline of Western Civilization in 1981. Culture Clash, the satirical performance trio founded in San Francisco in 1984, moved to L.A. in 1991 led by Richard Montoya (son of renowned artist, poet and activist José Montoya), with Richard Salinas and Herbert Sigüenza. Richard Duardo started the important Modern Multiples print studio. More upheaval in L.A. art continued through the ‘90s and into the 2000s chronicled by the incendiary underground art magazine Coagula Art Journal, published by artworld renegade Mat Gleason. Street Art and Lowbrow exploded in the ‘90s to the present with artists like RISK, Camille Rose Garcia, Shepard Fairey, Mister Cartoon and many others riding the wave of Juxtapoz Magazine’s popularity.
Over these decades and within this ever-shifting maelstrom, the California Locos would continue their parallel trajectories, each honing and perfecting their crafts, crossing paths from time to time. That all changed in 1998 when Tourjé purchased Chouinard’s home and learned about the school and its founder. He became a champion of Chouinard and her school with its nearly forgotten legacy, and through the Chouinard Foundation built the prestigious Advisory Board which included the future California Locos artists. Together,they united to preserve the legacy of this historic school for future generations through a museum and university exhibition, numerous shows, an awardwinning feature-length documentary (Curly, 2013), a gallery, and an art school with classes taught by ex-Chouinardians and other noted L.A. artists like Guy Dill, Laddie John Dill, Diana Vitale, Sam Clayberger, Doris Kouyias, Chuck Swenson, Larry Bell, George Herms and others. Granted by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the Chouinard Foundation went on to partner with the City of L.A. in the first of its kind “public/private partnership” Chouinard at L.A. REC and PARKS from 2006-2009. The Foundation brought their progressive art programming to underserved youth in downtown L.A. and Venice Beach, facilitated by Assistant General Manager of REC and PARKS Kevin Regan, anchored by artists Doris Kouyias, Chuck Swenson and Mary Anna Pomonis, with Tourjé as Executive Director throughout.
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM, L-R:
Top Jimmy and The Rhythm Pigs with David Lee Roth, Cathay de Grande, Hollywood,1981. L-R: Steve Berlin, Gil T., David Lee Roth, Dig The Pig, Joey Morales, Top Jimmy, Carlos Guitarlos;
John Van Hamersveld Chouinard designs;
The Foundation’s activities became the nexus for the California Locos, and the reunion of Tourjé with Bojórquez, Van Hamersveld, Wisdom and Wong progressed into something more in 2011 when Tourjé invited them to join him for a panel discussion on L.A. art. The panel was held during Tourjé’s solo exhibition L.A. Aboriginal curated by Tom Gregory at the Gregory Way Gallery in Beverly Hills, which dealt directly with the above L.A.-centric issues. His exhibition coincided as a counterpoint to the Getty’s massive, region-wide initiative Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980 (P.S.T.), focusing on his own work after P.S.T.’s 1980 cutoff. During the panel moderated by artist and curator Mary Anna Pomonis, the artists, which included sculptor Brad Howe, discussed the fact that many of those being celebrated in P.S.T. as being “quintessential L.A.” artists had actually moved to L.A. from elsewhere. The future California Locos artists agreed that their personal experiences growing up in L.A., breathing its smog, surfing its waves, cruising its gritty streets, experiencing the racial tensions and violence, as well as witnessing its evolution from ground zero to a major art center, gave their art a unique insiders perspective. An internationally acclaimed and award-winning short documentary was made about Tourjé by Bayou Bennett and Daniel Lir also entitled L.A. Aboriginal and which included the future Locos. The Los Savages band began at the opening with Tourjé, guitarist Ian Espinoza and included Carol Espinoza and Gary Wong. They would expand to include Jim Grinta, Bryan Head, Dave Ryan, Toby Holmes, Llyn Foulkes and Lynn Coulter with Norton Wisdom painting, playing at most of the Locos’ art openings from there on out. During the panel, moderator Mary Anna Pomonis affectionately referred to the artists as “Los Locos” based on the Bojórquez work Los Locos de Cali. Filmmakers Bennett and Lir added “California,” and the name stuck. Though they initially resisted a name, the artists were now armed with a platform and the California Locos as they are now known began. Their logo, designed a year later by Tourjé, utilized Van Hamersveld’s interpretation of the word “CALIFORNIA” and Bojórquez’s interpretation of “LOCOS”, effectively merging L.A.’s Eastside and Westside cultures. Not “street artists”, but rather fine artists with deep ties to the street, they instantly connected their strengths, moving forward ever since while quickly amassing a powerful body of exhibitions reflecting their collective statement.
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM, L-R:
L.A. Aboriginal, Gregory Way Gallery, Beverly Hills, 2011;
Pre-Locos panel, L.A. Aboriginal, 2011. L-R: Norton Wisdom, Chaz Bojórquez, Brad Howe, Gary Wong, Mary Anna Pomonis, Dave Tourjé and John Van Hamersveld
The rise of Los Angeles as a major art center was a long and arduous journey. As the city continues to evolve in the 21st century, so do the California Locos. Building on the accomplishments of their pioneering predecessors who forged the path for the “birth of now” in L.A. art, the California Locos together and separately continue to ride the wave of rebellion and push those boundaries further. Pulling from their experiences of being raised in the lively and diverse neighborhoods of postmodern Los Angeles, the California Locos continue to create their innovative and relevant works of art that reflect the many faces of their native city. More like a “band” than an art group, the Locos fell together as they organically did to make their points together in art and culture, having lived it their entire lives. The question now is where it might go in the future, which appears full of possibilities.
The Locos’ multidisciplined, multicultural “art for the people” approach has found international resonance where L.A. subculture is widely appreciated – Spain, Italy, Germany, Japan, China, Australia and others. Being more of a movement of ideas and attitude than artworld formality, the Locos now contemplate collaborations across skate and artworld genres with their full potential yet to be determined.
With decades of success behind them and as a reimagined L.A. Cool School, they offer another stop on L.A.’s long, chaotic and illustrious art historical continuum
FROM TOP TO BOTTOM, L-R:
Locos plus, Eastern Projects, 2017.
L-R: Chaz Bojórquez, Dave Tourjé,
Mister Cartoon, OG Slick, Norton Wisdom,
Gary Wong, John Van Hamersveld,
Robert Williams and Nano Nóbrega;