Chaz Bojórquez found art in the cholo-style graffiti associated with Latino gangs and now sounds a bit like a scholar of gang history. For the Geffen, he has made a new roll-call painting that will hang along with earlier works.
The paint brush versus the spray can-
When I started in the 1970s, there was only one can and only one tip — Krylon. It had low pressure, bad pigment and the paint would run down my elbows. So I went back to the old tradition of graffiti writers from the '40s who used a brush. I use a brush and acrylic today.
The typeface is Old English, some people call it Gothic. It goes back to the first printing press, the Gutenberg, where the Germans used it to represent the government. It's a prestigious typeface used in birth certificates, the Declaration of Independence and newspaper logos like the L.A. Times. That's why in the '40s gang members used it to define their neighborhoods — they'd make a "roll call" or list of names to mark their territory.
His version of cholo graffiti-
I was raised during the civil rights movement, so it was important to me to find my American identity in being Chicano, in being Mexican American, and graffiti did that for me. So I took the cholo graffiti that had been in the streets since the 1940s. Everybody hated it, and I found strength and beauty in it. I was also inspired by Asian calligraphy. I took the strength of cholo and the spirit of the brush.
Commercial work he's turned down-
I've turned down Adidas, Pony and Nike shoes because they're not my style. I wear Vans
Commercial work he's done-
I used to design logos for movies — "The Warriors," "Turk 182." And I did master inking for "The Empire Strikes Back," the Muppet movies, James Bond. It taught me a lot about doing billboards and signs: The logos have to be read within three seconds.
The difference between New York and Los Angeles graffiti -
There they'll tag all over the city; it's about getting their name up and not about their culture. Here it's about being Latino, and you tag your neighborhood because you're proud of it, to protect it.
Where to see his work on the streets today -
Señor Suerte was my tag early on, in 1969. Twenty years later I started seeing this image [of a skull wearing a fedora] on tattoos and now thousands of men in prison have it. Gangs picked it up as a warrior shield, something to protect them if they got shot. If you go to jail and they find it on you, you go to separate cells.
The biggest challenge in getting older -
Eyesight -- when you hit 50, it goes south. But climbing, scaffolding, that's no problem.
-Interview by LA Times
I don't care who you think you are, when it comes to Cholo handstyles, it begins and ends with CHAZ.