ARCADIA (AP) — His colorful expressive works, reflecting everything from cartoonish-looking characters to Aztec warriors, would come to cover everything from the walls of subways to those of major museums during a long career that put Gilbert “Magu” Lujan at the forefront of the Chicano Art Movement.
Lujan died Sunday at Methodist Hospital of Southern California. He was 70 and had suffered from cancer, said his son Naiche Starhawk Lujan.
“Los Angeles has, sadly, lost a cultural icon,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Tuesday.
Lujan’s style — colorful, often humorous and just as often political — sprung from the sidewalks, freeway overpasses and low-rider cars of largely Hispanic East Los Angeles in the 1970s. Like the work of such contemporaries as Carlos Almaraz, Frank Romero and Beto de la Rocha, his murals and other creations have come to define Chicano art.
Perhaps best known as a painter, Lujan also worked in a variety of media including sculpture, prints and even whimsical assemblages of sticks and twigs. He painted on canvases, parking structures and low-rider cars.
“Magu’s work always just seemed to mirror him. It was fun, it was funny, it was smart and it was really accessible,” said Father Bill Moore, an abstract artist who for years had a studio just down the street from Lujan’s in the city of Pomona’s Arts Colony.
One of his best known, and most widely seen, creations is “Hooray for Hollywood,” which graces the subway station at the famous intersection of Hollywood and Vine. It includes a “yellow brick road” directing people from the plaza to the train platform, as well as benches sculpted in the form of low-riders and support pillars that look like palm trees.
Other works have been exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Houston Museum of Fine Art and numerous galleries.
Although Lujan’s work always reflected his barrio roots, it came to transcend all genres, said prominent Chicano author Luis J. Rodriguez.
“He was always true to the barrio, he was always true to the culture he came out of,” said Rodriguez, a longtime friend. “But he needs to be recognized as a great artist from any genre. In any community.”
While his work could be light, colorful and whimsical, it just as often contained powerful messages directed at the culture.
“Everything I do is about humans,” he once told the website Latinopia.com. “So I make the car a human being, but for me making them these cartoon characters is a subterfuge for something else. This way I could deal with racism in a different way, to counter a lot of these anti-Mexican feelings by hiding behind whimsy, color, innocence, folky.
Lujan was born in the California town of French Camp in 1940 and grew up in East Los Angeles. After serving in the Air Force, he earned a degree in ceramic sculpture from California State University, Long Beach, and a master’s in fine art at the University of California, Irvine.
It was there that he joined with Almaraz, Romero and de la Rocha as “Los Four” for a groundbreaking exhibition of Chicano art in the early 1970s. In the late 1970s, he taught at Fresno City College and served as chairman of the school’s La Raza Studies Department.
In addition to his son, Lujan is survived by his other children Risa Liviana, Otono Amarillo, Joasia and Michelle; his mother, Josefina; brothers Richard, Robert, Phillip, Ronnie and Mark; and several grandchildren.
Funeral services are pending.
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