"Gyspy Rose" by Walt Prey, a 1964 Impala, is on display at the Oceanside Museum of Art’s lowrider exhibit. Photo by Promise Yee

Lowrider art exhibit debuts at museum

OCEANSIDE — Crusin’ Califas: The Art of Lowriding opened at the Oceanside Museum of Art on May 12. 

The exhibit contains works by more than a dozen legendary lowrider artists.

The exhibit is groundbreaking. Most of the artwork on display has gained notoriety through reprints of the images in hotrod magazines and posters, but has never been on display in a formal art show.

“It’s the very first time in history to see the original art,” said David C. de Baca, who curated the exhibit with his brother Carlos C. de Baca. “Teen Angle never displayed his artwork in a formal setting. Mike Pickel is the godfather of lowrider art.”

A variety of paintings, photographs and sculptures pack the exhibit space.

Perhaps the most prominent works are the three custom cars in the center of the exhibit painted by Gilbert “Magu” Lujan, Walt Prey and Mark Machado, better known as Mister Cartoon.

“Lowriding is a culture,” David C. de Baca said.

The core of lowrider art is based on custom hotrods of the 1960s that were embellished with hydraulic lifts, chrome accessories, pin striping details and custom paint.

Lowrider art takes artistic expression further. The artwork combines iconic images from Mexican history, religion and mythology with custom car painting techniques. Art mediums spill across unexpected surfaces. Cars are handpainted and paintings contain custom car glitter.

Many of the artists whose work is on display are self-taught prodigies who had immediate talent at drawing and developed skills at airbrushing, tattooing and painting.

The art is often self-narrative, expressing what the artist experienced in joyful and challenging times through mystical and religious imagery.

“Whatever it was I was doing, the power of it spoke through my art,” artist El Moises said.

El Moises is one of the younger artists whose work is included in the exhibit. He frequently paints with acrylic on board or canvas. He explained that his art has evolved from realistic images to manipulated crooked shapes that give his work more grit and character. He credits legendary lowrider artist Lujan for influencing his work and being a mentor.

“We were ahead of the rest of the world,” Mister Cartoon, legendary airbrush and tattoo artist, said.

Mister Cartoon explained that he grew up in the West Covina harbor area and was around classic cars. He said he and his contemporaries wore full-sleeve tattoos and created airbrush designs and tattoos to express the “vida loca” they experienced.

“We had to do it,” Mister Cartoon said. “We loved to do it.”

He added that younger artists are taking more chances now that lowrider art has become universally recognized and appreciated.

Crusin’ Califas: The Art of Lowriding will be on display through Sept. 30.

To gain a better understanding of the history and cultural significance of the artwork a docent tour can be arranged by calling the Oceanside Museum of Art at (760) 435-3720. The museum is located at 704 Pier View Way.

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