Surf’s up, dude! Who doesn’t know that phrase? Ok maybe millenials! But here’s a reason for everyone to visit and revisit this phrase and learn so much more about the depth and breadth of the creative culture that underscores California’s laidback lifestyle!
The California Locos are the five iconic SoCal artists John Van Hamersveld, Chaz Bojórquez, Dave Tourjé, Gary Wong and Norton Wisdom. They are Southern California “locals” whose work is a product of the surf, skate, barrio and car culture, and whose careers are thriving. Their lead has been followed by everyone from Shepard Fairey, creator of the Obama “Hope” poster, to an entire generation of artists. Now these creative and savvy artists known as the California Locos
are making their debut at Art Miami Context this year from Dec. 2-7.
The original SoCal surf/rock artist John Van Hamersveld’s instantly recognizable dayglo surfer-sunset poster for the ’64 film, The Endless Summer, is turning 50 this year.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BOB BAGLEY/BRUCE BROWN FILMS/1963/SURFING HERITAGE & CULTURE CENTER/ARCHIVES OF R. PAUL ALLEN, DIGITAL COLORIZATION BY LORNA CLARK; INSET FROM JOHN VAN HAMERSVELD. Photo was featured in the Vanity Fair article listed above.
Rebels & Artists, a compelling 6-minute film about the five California Locos:
Video of John Van Hamersveld’s Signs of Life in Vegas’ Freemont Street Experience:
(embedding not allowed)
Essay on the Locos by art critic Shana Nys Dambrot:
No one describes the California Locos “experience better than Shana Nys Dambrot’s piece that I have excerpted here.
The history of CALIFORNIA Locos is not a history of styles. If anything, as a decades old but freshly christened movement, it’s anti-style. As a school of practice and thought, Locos is an unusually fractal, retroactive, and personal matter. Deriving points of view from a hybrid insider/outsider mix of higher education and non-traditional artistic experience, the moment in LA cultural history the Locos embody (roughly 1980-2000) was itself a time of splintering, struggle, and great change for the city and the world. With an iconoclasm bred in the interlaced underworlds of surf, skate, graffiti, and and punk, the Locos represented, and continue to celebrate, a break from the shiny optimism of the past that had come to define LA’s visual culture; seeking instead to replace it with something dirtier, rougher, far more vital — and more than anything, something local. For artists Chaz Bojórquez, Dave Tourjé, John Van Hamersveld, Norton Wisdom, Gary Wong, and their contemporaries, being from LA was everything. It still is. But like all great artists, these five have never stopped working, never stopped growing, absorbing, refining, and innovating. What they did changed everything — but what they are doing now is the best work of their lives.
For the purposes of this particular assault on the history books, Locos focuses on a core group of five artists. But really it’s an inclusive, curious-minded sort of movement, in which membership is fairly easy to come by. All you have to do is have been raised around LA, and have made fucked up art here in the 1980s and ‘90s. Tourjé thinks about it this way, “It wasn’t about the artists who came here in the 1940’s-60’s and stayed. It was about the artists that were raised here. Homegrown. They came up outsiders to the art parade. They came from the surf, skate, graffiti, and punk scenes — not the gallery scene.” Despite many of them attending the art schools LA was rapidly becoming famous for –all but Tourjé attended Chouinard (later reinvented as CalArts), both Van Hamersveld and Tourjé studied at Art Center, and Tourjé attended the UCSB College of Creative Studies — they maintained a maverick sensibility through their stylistic and lifestyle/career choices and the threat they posed to the polished, poised version of LA culture their predecessors promulgated. What all those progressive art schools had in common was a dedication to the boundary-blurring, impure crossover — whether that be the use of non-traditional materials, or the elevation of the common, from surfer ‘zines to Mad Magazine, band flyers, and tagging. Transgressive mixed media impulses combined with the advanced skill sets that come from an art education and were applied to new ideas in what Tourjé calls an “open-barrier calamity.” And as the years have passed, those skills have only deepened — and their ideas have only gotten bigger.
Jump to about 2000, when everyone from skateboarders in Europe to gallerists in Chelsea started paying attention to a new generation of LA artists — that’s the world we live in now. Galleries around the world are clamoring for LA talent; art fairs, institutions, publications, and collectors want a piece of the new avant-garde like never before. But what happened between those heydays? What went on in LA’s streets, studios, and galleries during those decades? According to Locos frontman Dave Tourjé, the missing link is “20 years of chaos. It was fractal, it was broken pieces,” and it produced the first native generation of LA artists influenced by the edgy, irresistible surf, skate, graffiti, and punk subcultures. Artists like Robert Irwin, Larry Bell, Craig Kaufman, John Altoon, Guy and Laddie Dill — and many others in the PST pantheon — they were from here too, some of them, but they had a different set of influences and inspirations, things that came from the art-world’s insider places.
If you want to learn more about the amazing, fun, crazy and wild cultural backdrop of So. California, check out the videos listed above, the art exhibit in Miami, the articles written about these terrific, authentically influenced by California because they were born here. There is nothing like the So. California mindset.
California Locos’ website:
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