GILBERT “MAGU” LUJAN – CALIFORNIA ARTIST
IN HIS OWN WORDS:
I came out of the Air Force in 1962 and I went to East L.A. College. I took art classes. And as I was learning about the vocabulary in fine arts, definitions and so forth. I looked to the barrio and found parallels. I began to understand that a sculpture, by definition, was a low-rider and by definition, calligraphy could be graffiti. And altars were installation pieces. I began to realize this about 1964 and 1965. I began to curate shows and trying to find a definition for Chicano Art in a very rudimentary way. It was a cultural effort.
Frank [Romero] introduced me to Carlos [Almaraz]. Frank was the only one who had a house, we would go to his house to have coffee. Frank was never interested in political events, it was Carlos and I that had the most tumultuous conversations. He told me he didn’t want to hear
about Chicano Art, “Don’t tell me about that Chicano Art shit.” He had just come back from New York, he was doing Rauschenberg and those kinds of images. I was looking into our Mesoamerican heritage as a root as a basis for what I was doing.
This is how the Los Four show was assembled. I began to look for people that I wanted to have in the show. Beto De La Rocha was a given, we had gone to East Los Angeles college together, so I knew him for ten or twelve years already. Then Carlos was another choice of mine. And Frank was somebody that Carlos wanted to be in the group. LACMA had already done a show previously with Black artists. They had done nothing for the Chicano community. A group Chicano show made sense. What happened as a result of the Los Four exhibit was, not only was it a first, but it was important because thousands of people came to the museum that had never gone there to the museum. The other is that here we had a group of artists that were talking about being Chicanos– without apologies, talking about self-determination.
I wanted to find an icon that made sense to me, that would represent what I was trying to do. So the Mexican pyramid was that icon. One day I inverted two pyramids and saw a dog howling. So I wound up with a pyramid dog. That was the original idea for my dogs. Then I made the first anthropomorphic stick dogs and then that led to the pachuco dogs. I began to do these dog characters.
I think the lowrider was just part of what I was exploring to help define Chicano Art for myself. The reason that I have anthropomorphized cars and everything else that I do, is
because I am a humanitarian, I am a humanist. Making these things human is my counter to the alienation that I see in society. I see a lot of abuses which take place. Immigrant people coming over here and doing the dirty work and then being criticized and being treated hostilely. It is this human quality that is lacking in our society that I am trying to address.
For me making them these cartoon characters is a subterfuge for something else. This way I can deal with racism in a different way, to counter these anti-Mexican feelings by hiding behind whimsy, color, innocence, folksy.