Remembering a Chicano artist named Magú

Photo by Martha Benedict

His real name was Gilbert Lujan, a pioneering Chicano artist and muralist from East L.A. who was among the first Chicano artists to be exhibited at the L.A. County Museum of Art in a 1974 show titled “Los Four.”  Lujan died last month at age 70 after a long career as an artist, educator and activist. An altar, pictured above, in memory of Lujan was on display during a weekend art auction to benefit Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park.  In an interview with KPCC, Avenue 50 director Kathy Gallegos recalls that Lujan was not only known for his art, which included images of fat and colorful lowriders, but for hosting often contentious roundtable discussions called “Mental Menudos.”  According to KPCC:

“And I think a couple of people were kicked out and weren’t allowed to come back to the mental menudos because he tried to say, ‘You have to be respectful here, and we have to respect each other’s opinions,’” says Gallegos. “That’s easy to say, but when you start talking about what is Chicano art and someone doesn’t agree with you, it can get heated.”

Gallegos says some discussions got heated when Lujan didn’t acknowledge that some of his viewpoints tended to dismiss the women in the room. She and others remember Gilbert Lujan as a prolific artist and even tempered man. In recent years, she adds, Lujan came around and expanded his narrow definition of Chicano art to include work by Central American artists in the United States.

Lujan was nicknamed  Magú  because “friends noticed him squinting at artworks while inspecting them, like the nearsighted cartoon character Mr. Magoo,” according to an L.A. Times obituary. A benefit art exhibit – “Crusin’ Magulandia” – will be held in Pomona later this month in raise funds in support of his artistic legacy.

One comment

  1. Jesus,

    Thanks for the posting. I grew up on the west side and had the honor of meeting Magu when I was at Santa Monica College. He lived in Santa Monica and was a great artist and role model for many of us who enjoyed learning about Chicano art from artist like Gronk, Barbara Carrasco and Magu.

    He always encouraged us to buy Chicano art because he told us that although Europeans were responsible for creating many of the art forms, the one thing they could never create was the experience of being Chicano and the art form that comes from that experience.

    I know his art and legacy will continue for a long time to come.


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