Graphics is a
pioneer business in the Lowrider market.
Recognized for his Aztec images and Homies line of T-shirts,
David Gonzales is a real success story in the graphic arts.
His career spans 20 years and several publications, including
Lowrider Arte's predecessor, Arte del Barrio. We were fortunate
enough to talk to him about what it takes to make it as
an artist in today's market.
"I've been drawing for as long as I can remember,"says the
Richmond, California native. David was lucky enough to have
teachers and parents who recognized his talent and encouraged
him to pursue it. After taking cartooning and airbrushing
in high school, he enrolled in the California College of
Arts and Crafts in Oakland. He went on to San Jose State
for a degree in Graphic Design and Commercial Art, hustling
his way through with pinstriping, flyers, and murals for
area car clubs. His involvement with the cruising scene
led him to Five Star Productions, where he became the staff
artist for Lowrider Happenings Magazine. That's where Sonny
Madrid, original publisher of Lowrider Magazine, found him.
"Davie was into Frank Frazetta and all that fantasy art,
which was really cool," says Sonny. But it was David's bread
and butter, a comic strip called Chico Loco, that really
caught Sonny's eye. After a power lunch over margaritas
and burritos at Antuna's where they discussed Chicano political
and cultural art, "Homies" was born. "Sonny let me do what
I wanted, " Dave remembers. "Without censorship, we could
get away with all kinds of things you couldn't do today."
The adventures of Hollywood, Pelon, Raton and all their
friends soon became one of LRM's most popular features.
They began traveling to California lowriding hot spots (
and large LRM markets ): Story and King Boulevards in San
Jose, Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles, and the Mission
District in San Francisco. David's work also graced the
cover of Arte de Barrio as well as three well-known centerfolds,
the first of which, Bustin Loose, taught David a valuable
" A T-shirt company stole the image and used it on their
product," he explains. To add insult to injury, the shirt
was even advertised in LRM. "If you go to college for a
degree in art," he advises, "try to at least minor in business.
Learn to protect yourself and your art." That's not the
only lesson David has learned in the course of his two decade
career. "Too many Chicano artists get caught up drawing
just cars and women," he laughs, noting that this was what
paid his bills for many years. "You need to do 'life studies,'
landscapes, still lifes, and people. Learn every technique,
oil paints, watercolors, whatever. Don't limit yourself
to pen and ink; there aren't many jobs in that." "What we
don't need are thousands of Chicanos making the same type
of art. The lowrider market is becoming saturated - it's
great now, but what about two years from now? More Chicanos
need to be represented in fields like industrial design,
technical design, computer graphics, even the fine arts."
There are more role models than ever for Chicano artists
to look up to, so why limit yourself? David found inspiration
in the work of lowrider artists like Mike Pickle, Teen Angel,
even Easy Rider's Dave Mann. But he also looked to the fantastic
work of Frank Frazetta, and trained with "the godfather
of Chicano silk-screening," UC Davis Chicano art professor
Malaquias Montoya. " My real inspiration, however, was four
years spent working in the Chicano community, being engulfed
in barrio culture," he adds. The result has been fulfilling
and profitable, but not without pitfalls. " I sometimes
get a negative response, being a Chicano businessman," David
admits. His work, because of its OG flavor, has been criticized
as gang-related in certain markets. He had to learn to market
his art in unconventional ways, at gas stations and taco
stands. He's also learned to "censor himself," staying away
from drug related and violent imagery. After he learned
that a group of MEChistA mujeres burned some of his "Classic
Body" line T-Shirts featuring women in suggestive posses,
he discontinued the line completely. " I used to be in MEChistA
myself, and I respect their views. Some things are more
important than money." His willingness to change hasn't
hurt his success - his business grows each year, selling
thousands of shirts and introducing new designs regularly.
"We've gone from Jose's Burrito Wagon to JCPenney, and it
just keeps getting bigger," says David. He continues to
expand his horizons, winning prestigious awards in the fine
arts. But "Homies" is where his heart is. "Over the years
in music, art and especially cars, Chicanos are defining
their own style, different from the Latino and Mexican flavors.
My art is part of it," he says proudly. "It is unique to
us, something we created, that is respected throughout the
world. We sell shirts to Japan, Canada, all over the world.
It's amazing how far it's gone from Aztian."