Chicanx Art

Against the wall, a large canvas is surrounded by framed photographs wherein the museum tombstone reads: "Puro Loco, 2018, Zolatone paint, acrylic paint, silver marker on canvas, 72" x 84"." Street artist, Chaz Bojórquez, is the author of the notorious stenciled image of a Gothic-like skull wearing a Fedora and fur coat while making the "good luck" gesture. For Angelenos, the image is highly-recognizable since its 1960s appearance in the streets of Los Angeles (LA). The skull icon is known as 'Señor Suerte,' and the image was immediately adopted by northeast LA local gang, "Los Avenues"; thusly, becoming a vital component of gang/prison iconography for Chicanx. Notably, the skull icon is associated with the Mexican holiday of "Día de los Muertos"; however, Bojórquez reinterprets its context for Chicanx with finesse. While Puro Loco appears like a simple stenciled skull, it alludes to the "Gothic" aesthetic of the Chicanx graffiti art movement; moreover, the 'Señor Suerte' embodies gang/prison iconography, and Bojórquez creates layers of context in his piece by highlighting the Gothic cholo style, lettering, fashion, and vida loca lifestyle

The art exhibit curated by Roger Gastman, "Beyond the Streets," demonstrates Bojórquez' variegated oeuvre. The central canvas is a black stenciled image of 'Señor Suerte' with lettering surrounding him. In black ink, the bottom reads, "¡¡LOVE PUTOS!!", followed by Avenue 43's placas. Alongside, the Chicanx warning symbol of "c/s." , In white ink, "PURO LOCO" materializes across 'Señor Suerte." To the side, the gallery's tombstone states that Bojórquez' skull and lettering are 'Old English,' so the lettering is capitalized. The Chicano graffiti aesthetic uses prototypical gothic elements such as fonts and the skull as early as the 1930s. The gothic cholo style emerged from East LA, and it is an artistic expression Chicanx street artists use today. , Bojórquez adopts the similar black, white and grey elements apropos to the gothic cholo movement along with the fonts—an influence from the black-font typographic headlines and titles from newspapers. Born in LA, Bojórquez grew up in the barrios: the birthplace for cholos. , Consequently, Puro Loco demonstrates cholo qualities that represent the gothic style. However, the gothic cholo expression functions as a communication tool.

For instance, Bojórquez uses the Gothic lettering system in Puro Loco. While the East Coast is known for bulbous-ineligible font, the West Coast adopts 'Old English' lettering. According to French typographer, François Chastanet, Chicanx gangs and inmates use simplified 'Old English' as a functional legible communication system amongst themselves. In Puro Loco, the script informs viewers the identity of the gang and are warned by the artist to not vandalize their graffiti with the stamp of "c/s"—a popular acronym used in gangster graffiti as a means of protection and forewarning. The mark, "c/s," stands for consafos, which roughly translates to "with safety," and gangster's graffiti tags would include the stamp to mark their tagging off-limits to others. By integrating 'Old English' font and the 'c/s' stamp, Bojórquez provides visual communication of Chicanx gang/prison iconography. For Chicanx, gothic calligraphy communicates tradition and can signal geographic locations; in other words, under the rules of cholo script, each gang made slight variations to the lettering to create their own identity.

Additionally, cholo script has a specific written, visual aesthetic that represents a gang's identity, and it was meant to obfuscate authorities. Another vital detail Bojórquez stresses is the Pachuco or zoot-suit fashion popularized by the Chicanx youth in the 1960s. By painting the skull with a fedora hat and a fur coat, Bojórquez transforms the Mexican "Día de los Muertos" skull into a pachuco. For many, 'pachucos' were the precursors to cholos. In the 1960s, pachucos were anathema to American society. Signaled as rebels, the young pachucos would later influence cholos. Chicanx zines like Teen Angels suffused images of the Chicanx cholo culture during the 1980s, including Bojórquez' 'Señor Suerte.' Inmates and gang members furnished the content of the magazine. Therefore, the cholo aesthetic appropriates pachuco accessories [like the fedora hat and fur coat], but it also created a new appearance, which includes tattoo sleeves, khakis, and colored bandanas. There are framed photographs of additional graffiti art belonging to Bojórquez surrounding Puro Loco. Like, snapshots of cholos. placas, and even a 'Señor Suerte' tattoo on the neck of an individual. Unequivocally, Puro Loco represents the vida loca lifestyle.

For Chicanx, mi vida loca [i.e., "my crazy life"] represents the Chicanx gang lifestyle. Marginalized by society, cholos were portrayed as criminals. Gangsters would mark their territories with graffiti where at times, tags would be seen on bridge overpasses. The allure of committing vandalism is the impetus that propelled cholos to carve spaces in their barrios as part of their vida loca. However, the parallel to the criminal lifestyle is the birth of visual strategies like 'Señor Suerte' that became communicative icons of gangs. Particularly, Puro Loco has the gangster 'Señor Suerte' icon with the placas of "Los Avenues," and the motto, "PURO LOCO," as an homage to mi vida loca—an intrinsic characteristic of the cholo subculture. Gangster and prisoners began tattooing 'Señor Suerte' on their bodies as an amulet. For gangster and inmates, the 'Señor Suerte' contains protective powers that will keep death away along with being an identity marker of their neighborhood. By framing photographs depicting block-letter graffiti, stencil art mapped on bridge overpasses, cholos in front of lowriders, and the 'Señor Suerte' tattoo on a cholo, Gastman elucidates how Bojórquez' iconic skull illustrates la vida loca of Chicanx.

Overall, Puro Loco demonstrates Bojórquez' connoisseurship of Chicanx iconography. Outwardly, the stenciled-skull has minimal lines and outlines of clothing and lettering; however, Bojórquez highlights definitive characteristics that reveal a deep knowledge of the Chicanx cholo lifestyle. By using the favored gothic cholo typography, color scheme, and skull icon, Bojórquez pays homage to the gang and prison thread of Chicanx art. Unequivocally, by dressing 'Señor Suerte' in pachuco fashion, Bojórquez alludes to the influence of 1960s pachucos on cholos. Furthermore, Puro Loco encases the mi vida loca subculture. The skull became an identity marker of neighborhoods as it was graffitied across LA. Also, cholos posited amulet powers to the skull. Thus, 'Señor Suerte' represents Chicanx, and it becomes an icon adopted across the board in the 1970s—a harbinger of gang and prison iconography. Today, the figure serves as a reminder of the street narratives encompassing Chicanx art; but, in a unique exhibition, it serves as a visible representation of the evolution of Chicanx street art from being a vandal act to a scintillating symbol for Chicanx cholos. Bojórquez has emerged as one of the idiosyncratic talents of Chicanx street art. From vandalizing bridge overpasses in Highland Park to recreating the infamous image on a canvas for a gallery exhibit of street art. The quintessential icon of mi vida loca may take on a different meaning within a gallery space in the 21st century. What the new reinterpretation will be for Chicanx is yet to be determined.


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