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The Skull Will Never Die: LA Graffiti and 50 Years of Art History with Chaz Bojórquez

Los Angeles has an aesthetic that, when performed and activated on the street, is like a dynamic presentation of culture. It's singular. To say Los Angeles means a million things, a melting pot unlike any place on earth. In terms of art and art history, the aesthetic of LA is entrenched in the hands of  Chaz Bojórquez, whose  SEÑOR SUERTE stencil seemed to change the way graffiti and street art could look, but also captured the spirit of a city on the edge of the world. 

On the occasion of his print release with BEYOND THE STREETS, we spoke with Chaz about the evolving Los Angeles art world, how he sees his place in Los Angeles graffiti art history and his iconic iconography known the world over. 

Why do you think the skull still has such a resonating aesthetic for people? And why does it for you, too?
Chaz Bojórquez: My artistic voyage started when I first tagged my stencil of 'SEÑOR SUERTE' (Mr. Lucky) and became part of L.A. gang culture. By tattooing the 'Skull' image it represents affiliation with the notorious LOS AVENUES gang since the 1940's, also a gang myth that says "if you have the Skull tattooed and you get shot, you wouldn't die!". The Skull will protect you from death. The Skull image as a talisman is one point of view but the real meaning and value of the Skull is when you start believing in the image. The Skull will protect you. I still paint the Skull, people and collectors still use it as a tattoo and now collect artwork, Because 'they' now believe in my art. For me, the Skull will never die.

chaz bojórquez
You have seen Los Angeles evolve over the years, from an outsider art scene to now a mega capital of contemporary art. But essentially, you are part of the history of LA’s visual art history. To you, what is essentially LA?
The Los Angeles art scene has changed drastically in the last 50 years. A young artist in the 1960's had to travel and work in New York if they wanted an art career. All the major art magazines, critics and galleries of value were only in New York. The L.A. art and graffiti scene was different, we had gangs with a unique traditional style of lettering that did not copy the N.Y. Hip-Hop styles of multi colors and Bubble lettering, we didn't need New York's approval, the crews validated each other. Our isolation on the opposite coast was our strength, it gave us independence and freedom to develop 'our own' styles; Surf, Skate, Hot Rod and Low Rider lifestyles that was reflected in our artwork. Social media made the entire world a level field in the art market. I believe LA. is now a world contender (more artist in L.A. than anywhere in the world) but will also become the leader.

chaz graffiti

Talk about the images you are releasing with BEYOND THE STREETS, what are their origins?
For the last 10 years I've participated in the international 'BEYOND THE STREETS' graffiti exhibitions. I currently have a new 'Skull' print to release in two color versions. Living in L.A. I experienced the Rock N' Roll Glam scene from Hollywood and the huge car culture use of 'glitter', it is also one of the materials I use in my artwork. These prints are another look at my original Skull stencil over a glitter paper matrix. They are bright, colorful and loud, perfect for my style of graffiti art.
chaz art
Chaz, you drive around LA, you see how much graffiti is all around right now. It feels like a revival. What are you liking?
Today the L.A. graffiti walls are covered, always renewed and refreshed by every younger generation. I see new styles and some use pressurized tanks spraying letters 30 feet tall, some tagging is large but I admire skill. The best written and painted catch my eye. Through Social media we've exported our L.A. 'Cholo' gang graffiti style around the world. I receive many emails from Italy, Brazil, Thailand and Cambodia who write, paint and even dress like us. Graffiti now is a world vision that's united all the writers for a new world art movement.

What's on your schedule for this year?
2020 was a break that afforded me to catch up with new ideas. This year the demand for exhibitions and designs has been a landslide.

Currently I'm in a Berlin museum show collaboration with the German graffiti crew LAYER CAKE and another exhibition  CITY AS STUDIO, curated by Jeffrey Deitch in Hong Kong. Designed lettering for the 2028 OLYMPIC poster, plus selling artwork at the European auctions houses.

The rest of the year we are re-releasing the 1975 STREET WRITERS, the first book about L.A. graffiti style with my early tagging and text. Designed the title 'CON SAFOS' an NPR poster for Ruben Guevara, 1970's rock star from 'RUBEN AND THE JETS' fame. finished a title label for 'VERDE' mezcal liquor from Mexico and huge letters 'NICETY' were built for the grand opening of a street style clothing store in Tokyo. Also from Japan, 'Chaz' represented and drawn into the 'GHETTO HOLLYWOOD' Manga novels. At the end of this year I will be giving the commencement speech and receiving an Honorary Doctorate from the Art Center School of Design in Pasadena.


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