About Gilbert "Magú" Luján's

Me and My Compadre



INFORMATION ABOUT THE ARTWORK

REPRODUCTION: What can I learn about how this reproduction is different from the original artwork?

The image on the computer is a digitized image. The original is the 21st of 100 hand-pulled lithographs. The original print is 28" high x 20" wide and printed on thick, acid-free paper.

The original was conceived and financed jointly by the Segura Publishing Company (Joe Segura proprietor and master printer) and MARS (Movimiento Artístico Río Salado, Ralph Córdova, director).

CONDITION: What can I learn about the condition of the artwork?

The lithographic print is in excellent condition.

SUBJECT MATTER: What can I determine about what the artwork depicts if anything?

The print depicts a dog embracing a man with its right paw which has been been anthropomorphized (made to appear human-like). The dog has a cartoon quality, especially because of its "button" eyes, triangular ears, and mouth without detail--just a white cavity. On the dog's left anthropomorphized arm where on a human a tattoo might appear, indeed there is a tattoo of a heart over which is emblazoned MARS. The man has a dark mustache and a light-colored mask and he wears an open green shirt. The dog has on what appears to be an undershirt. The background is sky blue.


Printmaking Lesson Index

TOOLS, MATERIALS, AND PROCESSES: What can I learn about how the artwork was made?

The print is No. 21 of an edition of 100. The artist made five separate drawings on aluminum plates, one for each color. Joe Segura, a master printer and owner of the Segura Publishing Coompany, inked each plate, placed heavy paper over the plate, and ran the plate through a press. He repeated this process five times with each print (once for each color) in order to make the final print.



Sensory Lesson Index

SENSORY ELEMENTS: What visual elements do you see?

The print has a festive quality. It feels like a cross between a snapshot taken at a party or carnival where revelers pose for a momentary portrait and the cell of a comic strip. Bright colors predominate: the yellow skin tones of the man and the sienna color of the dog, the green shirt, bright blue sky, pastel, rose and white mask and undershirt, and the reddish tones of what might be a love seat in the background. The otherwise flat, simple, sometimes outlined shapes are enlivened with loose, lively, linear textures.

FORMAL ORGANIZATION: How do the elements in the artwork work together?

The most striking element is the contrast between the vertical ellipses and the succesive waves of horizontal contours. The vertical element consists of the two elliptical heads (dog and man) together with the dog's two arms. Contrasted to the vertically positioned shapes are the colorful, undulating horizontal spaces. The man's green shirt makes up the foreground horizontal space, followed by the reddish love seat and the blue sky in the background.

There are almost no straight lines in the composition. A warm, undulating use of line predominates, and this element of inviting comradeship is supported by the bright, pastel color scheme.


INFORMATION ABOUT THE ARTMAKER

The artist, Gilbert Luján, who prefers to be known by the name, "Magú" was born in 1940 at French Camp (close to Stockton), California. His parents come from two long lines of American Indian (both Tarascan and Apache) and Mexican-American families. While Luján spent his first months in a migrant workers' settlement in Northern California, his family soon relocated permanently in East Los Angeles where he spent his elementary and high school years.

Gilbert Luján grew up in the half-rural, half-suburban environment of the towns of La Puente and El Monte. Essentially extended parts of the East Los Angeles metropolis, they were multiethnic communities where comradeship was an important value.

After a stint in the airforce, Luján returned to Los Angeles in 1962, where he decided to pursue art as a career. First, Luján enrolled at East Los Angeles Junior College, then studying from 1966 to 1971, first at California State University, Long Beach, where he earned the B.A., and the University of Califorinia, Irvine, where he earned an M.F.A. At Irvine he worked with the ceramic sculptor John Mason as well as with John Paul Jones and Tony Delap. During this period Luján was foremost an art student, discovering his esthetic direction and finding its articulation in Chicano art. He also organized artist's conferences for the purpose of establishing at once a personal and social vocabulary for Chicano art.

As a result of his organizing efforts, in cooperation with three other Los Angeles Chicano artists (Carlos Almaraz, Beto de la Rocha, and Frank Romero), the exhibiting group "Los Four" was established and gained considerable exposure and recognition. Their first major exhibit was at the University of California, Irvine in 1974, followed by exhibits at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Oakland Museum, and several other institutions.

From 1976-1981, Luján taught at the La Raza Studies Department at Fresno City College (where he became chair of the department in 1980). In 1977, with John Valadez, Geraldo López, Fred Payán and members of La Brocha del Valle (a local art group), he oversaw and helped execute an immense farmworkers' mural on the theme given to him by the farmworkers, "Una Sola Unión," now lost.


CONTEXTUAL INFORMATION

FUNCTIONAL CONTEXT: What can I learn about how the artwork was used?

The lithograph was produced as a fundraiser for a prominent Chicano/Latino art organization and art gallery in Phoenix, Arizona, the Movimiento Artístico Río Salado (the Artistic Movement of the Salt River). The Salt River runs through the center of Phoenix. MARS supports artists in Arizona, especially the Phoenix metropolitan area. The tattoo commemorates the fundraising event since MARS is the abbreviation of Movimiento Artístico Río Salado and thus the tattoo stands for a sentiment akin to "I love MARS."

CULTURAL CONTEXT: What can I determine about what people thought, believed, or did in the culture in which the artwork was made?

Luján has observed that the social and political circumstances of contemporary Chicano culture place a premium on community unification and consensus based on personal and ethnic identification and social altruism. (Letter from Gilbert Luján to Gary Keller Cárdenas, February 13, 1997.)

Me and My Compadre is also excellent example of the rasquache [pron. RA-SKWA-CHE] sensibility. The playful and irreverent rasquache attitude toward life subverts rather than confronts authority, especially external, Anglo authority, and is an important aspect of Chicano culture. Chicanos find themselves constantly harrassed by such authorities as the police, the immigration service, case workers, and others, The rasquache sensibility permits Chicanos to survive by means of a stance of resistance that is humorous and ironic rather than confrontational or hard-edged

ARTWORLD CONTEXT: What can I learn about the art ideas, beliefs, and activities that were important in the culture in which the artwork was made?

Collaboration and the formation of exhibition groups are important in Chicana and Chicano culture and Luján was active in such groups such as "Los Four" and La Brocha de Oro. Luján also very actively organized conferences on behalf of Chicana and Chicano artists. In a very notable way, Me and My Compadre through its attention to companionship and friendship and collaboration (particularly the work on behalf of the artist for the art organization, MARS), reflects the very same beliefs and activities in the Chicano artworld.

With respect to the rasquache sensibility that the work evokes, this sensibility also infuses a number of other art works. Eva Sperling Cockcroft observes that: "This rasquache, barrio-based attitude is the common factor in the Pop inspired work of Mel Casas and Luis Jiménez; the defiant pachuco/a portraits by César Martínez, John Valadez and Daniel Gálvez; the neo-Expressionist paintings of Carlos Almaraz, Frank Romero and Gronk; the funky constructions and painted cars of Gilbert "Magú" Luján; or the bilingual preformances of José Montoya and Guillermo Gómez-Peña. It is this style more than any other that has been identified in the popular mind with Chicano art." For more information on this aspect of Chicano art see, Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, "Rasquachismo: A Chicano Sensibility," Richard Griswold del Castillo and others, ed., Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation, 1965-1985, Wight Art Gallery, UCLA: Los Angeles, 1991, 155-162.


VIEWPOINTS FOR INTERPRETATION

MAKER'S INTENTION: What can I learn about why the maker wanted the artwork to look the way it does?

"The making of art entails numerous conglomerations of influences, choices, decisions, intentions, and worldy forces. It requires knowledge, discipline, emotions, rationale, and direction. These factors are not all inclusive but are some of the elementary aspects to me. Me and My Compadre is concerned with bonding and humor, masked emotions and character, fun and revealing dual aspects of a personality--i.e., the dog is an alter-ego.

"My aesthetic is determined to enhance a group identification of Chicano culture. To establish a vocabulary that can be expressed regardless of style/format/personal manner, but of Chicana/o experience which holds the definitions and central matrix to the question. It is each artista's obligation to decide and choose their goals and objectives in arte (anything)." Letter from Gilbert Luján to Gary Keller Cárdenas, February 13, 1997.




Viewer Lesson Index

ARTWORLD VIEWER UNDERSTANDING: What can I determine about how the viewer, patron, or user undertstood the artwork?

The primary patrons of the work were Chicanos and other Latinos, either with some financial resources to purchase a lithograph selling for a few hundred dollars, or intensely interested in Chicano art. Me and My Compadre was a community conceived and financed product, printed by a Chicano company under the supervision of a Chicano master printer. Thus it was produced by the community primarily for the community. Nevertheless, because Gilbert Luján has established a national reputation since as early as 1974 (the date of the first major Chicano art exhibit at a major art museum, the Los Four Exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art), this lithograph as well as many other examples of his work, have been purchased by mainstream collectors and museums, and have been exhibited at a variety of galleries, primarily Latino, but also mainstream.

Thematically, the work has a universal appeal due to its humorous evocation of comradeship, the mutability and mystery of postures and images, and the interchangeability and interaction between a human and a dog. Stylistically, the work communicates to a wide audience due to the immediacy of the figures which are easily understand, its bright and appealing color scheme, and economical, undulating use of line.

CULTURAL IMPACT: What can I learn about how the artwork was understood within the culture in which it was made?

Me and My Compadre functions as a piece that reinforces the sense of Chicano community, of neighborhood parties and getting together, of buddies "hanging out," and an acceptance of the social stances that all humans project. As Gilbert Luján has put it in his statement letter of February 13, 1997: "There are acculturation factors that reveal traits of humans being interchanged." He points to the lithograph's presentation of "an ego and its alter ego."

The lithograph cultivates the important value and social behavior of Chicano brotherhood but does it with humor and irony, through the depiction of a (masked) man and a humanized dog that is both the man's buddy and his pet. The work also evokes the cartoon, comic strips, and film and video animation, all American art forms well-established in Chicano culture. The cartoon lends itself to the interaction of humans and humanized animals in a context of familiarity and friendship.


CONNECTIONS AMONG ARTWORKS

STYLE: How does the artwork look like other artworks?

"Magú" has used the image of a dog wrapping his shoulder around a man in several other works, Hanging Out, 1986, pastel on paper, 30" x 44" (collection of the artist) andStepping Out, 1986, pastel on paper, 30" x 44", (collection of the artist).

Luján shares with Los Four and other Chicano artists who emerged out of the Chicano movement of the 1960s and 1970s, a dedication to subjects drawn from Chicano society and roots. For example, both Luján and Frank Romero use the Chicano-stylized automobile or other "wheels" in their work as one icon of barrio culture and mythology.

Luján, like César A. Martínez, the Chicano artist resident in San Antonio, both depict human figures in full frontal pose (e.g., Martínez's "El hombre que gusta mujeres", his portrait of Sandra Cisneros, his "Pantalón rosa"). These figures embody a concern or interest in the Chicano/Chicana identity. While Martínez's portraits have a static quality, and are relatively removed from space, Magú's figures are relaxed, humorous, bantering, set in a more barrio atmosphere. Nevertheless, both artists depict Chicano poses and projections of their identity to the world.

In his February 13, 1997 statement, Luján observes: "The stylistic values for me were born of the movimiento's 1964 origins. In the larger community introspection--we found our image(s) to be maligned and certainly unbalanced in the scheme of things. Therefore the frontal aspect of figures and cartoons were of importance for wide acceptance and the inherent familiarity in our culture. Anyhow, it reinforces the humorous, the popular culture that has had wide appeal among the populace."

INFLUENCE: What can I learn about how earlier artworks influenced this artwork or about whether this artwork influenced later artworks?

Luján states that "my influences, as for most of us, are very broad and evolutionary as my artistic development changed and refined." He counts among his inspirers mostly sculptors, particularly Giacometti, Henry Moore, Picasso, and Francisco Zúñiga. Zúñiga and Diego Rivera are among his favorite Mexican artists. He also particularly likes William King.

Luján has indicated the influence of the American tradition of cartoons, comic strips, and animation an artwork that as he puts it, "favors human representations (anthropomorphic as well)" as well as "folksy characters."

Luján also has been influenced by and in turn influenced his co-artists in the exhibition group, Los Four. These artists are Carlos Almaraz, Beto de la Rocha, and Frank Romero.

THEMES: What general ideas connect this artwork to other artworks?

"Magú" has used the theme of comradeship, with a dog wrapping his shoulder around a masked man in Hanging Out, 1986, pastel on paper, 30" x 44" (collection of the artist). Also, Stepping Out, 1986, pastel on paper, 30" x 44", (collection of the artist), features a dog slightly behind a non-masked man, the dog placing two fingers in the form of a v (victory sign) just behind the man's head. Both of these images are reproduced in John Beardsley and Jane Livingston, Hispanic Art in the United States: Thirty Contemporary Painters and Sculptors, New York: Abbeville Press, 1987.

Other Chicano artworks related to the theme of comradeship include the offset lithograph by Juan Fuentes, Cholo Live (1980) that features four companions dressed in 1970s outfits stemming from the Pachucos of the 1940s; Amado M. Peña Jr.'s Chicano Gothic (1974, silkscreen) which features two Chicanos drinking in front of a store the wall of which has a number of signs and Chicano movement graffiti on it; and José Montoya's untitled ink on paper from his Pachuco series (1977), featuring a Pachuco and his chola (girlfriend). These works are reproduced in Richard Griswold del Castillo and others, eds., Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation, 1965-1985. Wight Art Gallery: University of California, Los Angeles, 1991.