California Locos Art Collective Publishes ‘Renaissance & Rebellion’


The influential West Coast artists collective California Locos staged a book launch party for “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion,” their massive new “cultural manifesto,” at the Eastern Projects gallery in Chinatown, Downtown Los Angeles, on Saturday, June 17.

In a rare joint appearance, the guests of honor were all five original California Locos. Chaz Bojórquez, John Van Hamersveld, Norton Wisdom, and Gary Wong attended the renowned Chouinard Art Institute in DTLA in the 1960s.

The fifth Loco, artist Dave Tourjé, co-founded the Chouinard Foundation in 1999 (with Robert Perine) to honor the legacy of Nelbert Murphy Chouinard, the Institute’s visionary founder in 1921. Tourjé is the collective’s founder-ringleader and primary author of the new book.

Now in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, each Loco is an innovator and a legend of contemporary and counterculture art in Southern California. Collectively, their multi-media works manifest many of the forms of exploration and expression that have defined and influenced West Coast art since the 1960s.

Noted art historian Michelle Deziel-Hernandez, who wrote the book’s main essay, “Riding the Wave of Rebellion: California Locos and the Birth of ‘Now,'” also attended the event. In her brief remarks, as in her more expansive 5,000-word essay, she provided the audience with a historical perspective on the Locos and their influence on pop culture.

California Locos: ‘Crazy About Life’

The California Locos – so named, they say, because they are “crazy about life” and creating art in the Golden State – are celebrating their 10th anniversary as a collective in 2023 with “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion.”

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“California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion,” a “cultural manifesto,” was published by DRAGO in Rome in July 2023. Photo: Nano Nóbrega.

The lavish 432-page large-format coffee table art book measures 13-1/4″ x 9-3/4″ x 1-7/8″, weighs 8.2 pounds in its hard slipcase, and is priced at $100. It was published in Rome in July 2023 by DRAGO in a limited edition totaling just 3,500 copies.

“California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” highlights iconic, rare, and previously unpublished works by three generations of L.A. artists, starting with the California Locos, and including works by other influential L.A. artists who have shown with the Locos. Among them are Shepard Fairey, Mary Anna Pomonis, Estevan Oriol, Retna, Robert Williams, OG Slick, and Mister Cartoon.

Mister Cartoon, in fact, created the book’s title lettering and designed the new “Renaissance & Rebellion Cruiser” skateboard in association with Nano Nóbrega, the Locos’ creative director and Tourjé’s main collaborator on the project. The limited edition skateboards (just 100 were produced) were available at the Eastern Projects event; they’re online now until they sell out.

Mister Cartoon designed the limited edition “Renaissance & Rebellion Cruiser” skateboard for the California Locos’ 10th anniversary in 2023.

Only 100 copies of “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” were available on June 17, airfreighted from DRAGO in Rome just for the book’s launch party at Eastern Projects. Preorders are now available for one or more of the 400 copies due to arrive in L.A. from Rome via ship in August.

The first edition’s remaining 3,000 copies will stay in Rome for distribution throughout Europe, where all five California Locos will go on a much-anticipated museum tour in 2024.

California counterculture is more popular than ever in Europe, where pop art aficionados view the Locos as heroes and inspirations. Slated to open at the Museum of Rome in April, the “Renaissance & Rebellion” tour will present new exhibits featuring some of the iconic artwork seen in the book as well as newer, post-publication creations that represent the California Locos” relentless lifelong pursuit of “now.”

The front cover of “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” as signed by all five Locos at Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023 (clockwise, from top): Dave Tourjé, John Van Hamersveld, Gary Wong, Norton Wisdom, and Chaz Bojórquez. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

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‘Renaissance & Rebellion’ Book Launch Draws Loco Artists, Fans

At the Eastern Projects gallery, the California Locos sat at a long table in the same left-to-right order as they appear in the black and white photo on the inside cover pages of “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion.”

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California Locos Dave Tourjé, Chaz Bojórquez, and John Van Hamersveld; Paulo von Vacano of DRAGO (standing); Locos Gary Wong (saluting the cameraman) and Norton Wisdom; and Locos creative director Nano Nóbrega are pictured during the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” book launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

Introduced by Tourjé, each Loco spoke briefly to the audience of several dozen art and pop culture enthusiasts about the book and what it represents.

Along with Deziel-Hernandez, other speakers included Paulo von Vacano, representing DRAGO, and the driver behind the project; Nano Nóbrega, the California Locos’ creative director as well as the book’s; and Mary Anna Pomonis, assistant professor of art education at California State University, Fullerton, and one of the artists whose work is included in the book. Pomonis thanked the Locos for partnering with her Art & Social Justice students and lauded the collective’s sponsorship of programs at CSUF for young people in the juvenile justice system.

Before and after they spoke, Bojórquez, Van Hamersveld, Tourjé, Wisdom, and Wong signed books and skateboards for the attendees who had pre-ordered or purchased them at the event.

Locos, Collaborators Talk About ‘Renaissance & Rebellion’

Here’s a transcript of the speakers’ remarks (edited slightly for clarity and flow).

Mary Anna Pomonis [Assistant Professor of Art, Cal State Fullerton]: I first met Dave Tourjé and John Van Hamersveld at the Chouinard Foundation 18 years ago. I had just had a baby, on my maternity leave, and decided I wanted to do something productive as an artist.

I had heard about Chouinard. It was one of the reasons I came to California. All of the artists I really loved went to the school and were really involved in the California Light and Space movement. I was very attracted to colors like magenta. Growing up in Illinois, people thought I had lost my damn mind, because I wanted to make pink, orange, and green paintings. And at Chouinard, the school really represented an ethos of risk-taking, and it influenced Southern California culture.

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Artist, educator, and activist Mary Anna Pomonis speaks during the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” book launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023. Photo: Matt Cali.

That’s the culture we are all fascinated with. So many of those artists like John made the iconic images I grew up looking at as a child. So when I met John for the first time in a hallway at Chouinard, I said, “Oh, my God, I’m so excited to meet you. I’m such a super fan.” I started geeking out.

And he said, “Oh, yeah. Do you really know my work?”

I said, “Yes, I really know who you are. I know your work.”

He said, “Oh, yeah? What’s your favorite image?”

I said, “Well, ‘Endless Summer,’ of course. It’s the Mark Rothko of the Pop Art movement.”

John looked at me and said, “Who are you?” [Laughs]

At the El Segundo Library on January 31, 2020, surfer-artist and California Loco John Van Hamersveld talks about creating the image for “The Endless Summer” almost 60 years earlier. Photo: Mark Knight.

And from that moment on, I have been in dialogue with all of these guys. And I have to say that they have been so supportive of my career as an artist.

Dave has probably been the most consistent collector over the years. I have met his entire family – his beautiful…and all of these gorgeous grandchildren, all these little girls who follow him around like he’s the Pied Piper. And he’s one of the single most generous people I’ve ever met, and he’s a big connector.

One of the things I immediately liked about the group of Chouinard people is that they saw creativity in connection and saw that we can make the world better and more creative if we work together as equals. This semester, I’m a professor at Cal State Fullerton. The California Locos sponsored my students at the California Institution for Women, and they gave skateboards to women who are incarcerated there. And some of my students, Russell [Haro] and Kimby [Ruiz], who taught those students who were women who were incarcerated, are here in the audience today. I want to say thank you to them. [Applause]

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Kimby Ruiz and Mary Anna Pomonis visit with an unidentified art fan during the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” book launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023. Photo: Matt Cali.

The California Locos bought all of our art supplies this summer, so the women who are making art at Chino Prison this summer are using paint, materials, and supplies that were donated because of the sales of skateboards. I’m so grateful to them for creating this relationship with me as an artist so that every skateboard I sell, it goes directly to women who are incarcerated. A percentage of profits goes to these women who really need art in their lives. But not just women who are incarcerated, people across the state of California.

Art, we know, like skating, is a form of rebellion, and it’s a form of personal freedom. And one of the things we can give to people who are incarcerated is that feeling of freedom that only art can provide. I’m so grateful to Locos for providing me with that sense of freedom and possibility and always supporting my work, and then also always being supportive of my students and the women in the prison program because they believe in the ethos of art as a human right. So I just want to thank all of the Locos for lending their fame and their skill to the women I work with and to my students. I’m so grateful to you guys, and for including me in the book as well. Thanks so much. [Applause]

A view from the audience during the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” book launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023, as contributing artist Mary Anna Pomonis speaks. Photo: Gary Leonard.

Dave Tourjé: Thank you, Mary Anna. [Applause]

Next, I want to introduce Nano Nóbrega. He’s been working for decades in the skate industry. I’m going to talk about Walter [Garrote, the book’s designer] too. [Laughs] Nano and I have never designed a book before. Nano is a skateboard designer, genius. And I’ve been trying to get this book done for six years, and… Paulo [von Vacano]. Raise your hand, Paulo. He’s the publisher from Rome, DRAGO Publishers. [Applause]

I tried to quit this thing 10 times. I wouldn’t answer his phone calls. He would leave me messages with his Italian accent. “You must make the manifesto, Dave. Now!” Anyway, I get into this thing, and the only way to get out of it was I had to grab Nano. He was the only one crazy enough to jump in with me, and somehow we got together. He brought in Walter. Raise your hand, Walter. [Applause]

This guy. We’d jump in my truck and go to the mountains. We’d do anything except work. Somehow, we got it going. Nano, say something.

Nano Nóbrega: Thanks, Dave. Hey, everybody. Thanks for coming. Again, it’s always an honor to be part of this legendary group of artists. I’m humbled and thankful for the opportunity, although it took my brain apart. I told him, “Dude, I’ve never designed a book before. Are you really sure you want to do this?” He was like, “Just think like this, man: Every single spread is a skatepark. And we’ll make it happen.” I was like, “All right, let’s go. Let’s do this.”

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California Locos author Dave Tourjé gives props to the Los Angeles-based art collective’s creative director Nano Nóbrega as they cop a pose outside the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles during the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” book launch party on June 17, 2023. Photo: Gary Leonard.

Then he dumps a 5,000-piece – what do you call those games? Puzzle! – on the table, [saying] “Okay, we got to make sense of this.” I’m like, “Great.” “We got to make sense of this in six months or so.” And I’m like, “Man, this is going to take three years to get done.”

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The California Locos story was nutshelled in the text on a tote bag that came with copies of the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” “cultural manifesto” when purchased at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples. (Click the image to open a larger image.)

Every time I talk about the Locos, I describe these guys as a Rolling Stones sort of band – they’re all Mick Jaggers, but they all sing their own songs, and somehow it all makes sense. And the book was [like that]. We had to make sense of putting all these five guys together – their history.

And then Michelle [Deziel-Hernandez] came out with this amazing [introductory] essay that goes back in California subculture’s history, and the reason why L.A. is the place that it is – eclectic and diverse. Anyway, I hope you guys like it.

We kept calling it a beast. Dave would be like, “Dude, we got to put a knife in the beast!” And then Paulo would be like, “You got to write the manifesto!” Anyway, we got together, went to the mountains, made sense of this, went back and forth a few times, but it’s finally ready.

I’m very excited to see it here, I’m very excited to see the smiling faces, [people] getting the autographs and book bags. Take it home, and I hope it brings joy when you read it, when you put it on your coffee table. And that’s it. Thank you. Appreciate it. [Applause]

Alex Peña and Kevin Lessley hawk “The Beast” during the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” book launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023. Photo: Matt Cali.

Tourjé: Okay, thank you. I met Michelle Deziel-Hernandez quite a while ago, probably 1998. She was the curator of the Norton Simon Museum Contemporary Collection. I was running the Chouinard Foundation School. And we immediately connected. She has a very sound conceptual idea of what California art is about and about California artists. Michelle loved what we were doing, and from that point on we were like best friends. She would speak at our events. When we got to the point with this book that we saw it needed some intellectual component – because most of it is not – I of course called her. So, this is Michelle Deziel-Hernandez. [Applause]

Michelle Deziel-Hernandez: Thank you so much. It is my pleasure and my honor to be here riding the wave of rebellion with the California Locos today with you.

Yeah, I met Dave in the late ’90s, as he said. I was working at the Norton Simon Museum, with the Pasadena Art Museum Collection. For those of you who don’t know their L.A. art history, the Pasadena Art Museum was at the forefront of the avant-garde in the ’50s and ’60s. They were bringing exhibitions [by artists] like Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp, Frank Stella. They brought the world of art to Los Angeles, but they were also showing emerging local artists. So, they gave Ed Ruscha, George Herms, Llyn Foulkes their first museum shows.

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Art historian and curator Michelle Deziel-Hernandez, who wrote the foreword for “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion,” provides context as she addresses the audience during the book launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023. Photo: Matt Cali.

And in working with this collection, the one thing I realized was that they were all connected in some way to Chouinard [Art Institute and/or the Chouinard Foundation].

And so all of the major art movements that were birthed from Los Angeles – and I would argue continue to be birthed from Los Angeles including our California Locos – are tied to Chouinard and to the Pasadena Art Museum.

As I mentioned, apart from Dave, all of these guys attended Chouinard. It was a progressive art school located just a mile from here. The Pasadena Art Museum and the Chouinard Art Institute were instrumental, and they were fertile grounds for art and ideas. Sadly, both closed their doors in the ’70s. Pasadena Art Museum became Norton Simon and Chouinard became [part of] CalArts [California Institute of the Arts] in Valencia [about 40 miles north of Downtown L.A.]. And there was a huge hole in Los Angeles. There were things still happening, of course. Exciting things. But it didn’t have the same momentum that it did.

Back to the late ’90s when I met Dave Tourjé: He came to me at the Norton Simon because he knew I was working with the collection, and said, “I have this idea. I want to resuscitate Chouinard.” And he was doing it. I’m like, “That’s insane. You can’t do that. That’s crazy.”

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“California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” foreword author Michelle Deziel-Hernandez speaks as California Locos Gary Wong, John Van Hamersveld, and Chaz Bojórquez, DRAGO’s Paulo von Vacano, and an attentive audience listen during the book launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023. Photo: Gary Leonard.

So, hell, yeah, I’m on board, 100%, 1000%. I worked with him, and he went to all of the players and the artists, and he roped them in. Not roped them in, but he inspired them to form this amazing Chouinard 2.0. It was Dave’s passion and vision to sort of create this thing. And Chouinard 2.0 as I’m calling it, thrived, and it ran its course. There were amazing classes run by known artists. There were museum exhibitions. There were things written about it. There were major events. It was incredible. It was so fascinating. And Dave kind of sort of reinvigorated our community and united us again. So, I first met Dave doing this thing.

But over the decade since the inception of California Locos, I have gotten to know all of these amazing artists and worked with them. And they are badass artists and beautiful humans. And it has truly, truly been my pleasure and my honor to be on this California Locos journey with them. You are going to enjoy this book. If you love L.A. and you love art, you are going to devour every page as we have.

I cannot wait to see them take Europe by storm. They are going to be doing a museum tour coming up this next year, and it’s going to be amazing. So, let’s give it up or the California Locos. [Applause]

Tourjé: Michelle Deziel-Hernandez.

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As their shadowy silhouettes loom on the wall behind them, California Locos John Van Hamersveld and Gary Wong observe being observed during the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” book launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023. Photo: Gary Leonard.
The audience as seen from the California Locos’ point of view at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on Saturday, June 17, 2023. Locos founder Dave Tourjé, also the primary author of “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion,” is at the far right with members of his family. Photo: John Van Hamersveld.

Tourjé: Now, I would like to introduce Paulo von Vacano from Rome, Italy. He’s our publisher. He has a few things to say. [Applause]

Paulo von Vacano: Thank you. This is not a love song. It’s much more. It’s passion. I arrived yesterday from the City of God, Roma. Shoutout to the City of Angels. So, California Locos is the intention of showing 60 years of California culture which is the soft-power, the most beautiful soft-power, of American culture of the world. So, thanks to Dave Tourjé and all of the other Locos. They did something very interesting and very Roman. It’s the marriage between heaven and hell. [Laughter]

von Vacano: In my world, there is SIC, which is “System of Independent Culture” – or you can say, “System of Independent Chouinard” here – [versus] SOC, or “System of Official Culture.”

In a funny way, these worlds until now never collided. They never mixed. In Los Angeles and everywhere else, you see exhibitions about Black women, [or] Mexican artists, but there is no exhibition in [a] museum about California counterculture.

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Publisher Paulo von Vacano of Rome-headquartered DRAGO bears witness to the worldwide influence of California culture and the California Locos as Locos Chaz Bojórquez, John Van Hamersveld, Gary Wong, and Norton Wisdom look on during the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” book launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023. Photo: Gary Leonard.

And me, as a European, I can say [California counterculture] was fundamental. Because everybody in Roma, in Germany, Berlin, in Paris, in Tokyo, was laid back, “Endless Summer.” This is the mainstream culture. This is the beautiful thing of America. This is the thing that conquered the world.

So, with California Locos, we have 60 years. And it’s not only the same thing, street art. There are great artists like Estevan, Shepard Fairey, Retna in the book here. But it’s not all about that. It’s [Robert] Williams, it’s skateboarding, it’s surfing. That’s California. And you honor that, each of you who rise, smile. This is California. California conquered the world, and California Locos are SIC.

Publisher Paulo von Vacano of Rome-headquartered DRAGO speaks to the crowd during the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” book launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023. Photo: Matt Cali.

Next year [2024] [“Renaissance & Rebellion”] will come to Europe to museums. Because like Dave told me here, you need to be outside to get inside. This will be [the] official exhibition trail of California culture in the world. So, in the next 20 years, California Locos will be the ambassador of this culture.

Thank you, Dave, Chaz, Dave, Nano. We did it, five years. It was COVID time. It was really difficult to work, but we did it. In Rome, we say you don’t get the baby out, but you got the angel out. [Applause]

Tourjé: Thank you, Paulo.

“Artlaw” Boyd Elder, 1968 Chouinard grad, Marfa, Texas, 2016. Photo: Ben Weller for Italian Vogue, courtesy Boyd Elder Estate.

Lastly, I want to thank the Locos themselves. These guys – I’ve known them for a very long time. I grew up in the same neighborhood as Chaz, Highland Park. I was introduced to John by a guy named Boyd Elder [a notorious Texas artist and Chouinard classmate of Wong and Van Hamersveld] 20-something years ago.

Gary, I met hanging art in 1980 but we didn’t connect then. Norton, I met in the punk scene around 1982. We were crossing paths. Chouinard brought us together, and [California Locos] just sort of came together. We started to immediately do what we’ve been doing, and we’ve been doing it for 10 years. This is our 10-year anniversary, by the way. [Applause]

Guys, would like a second to address people? Come on up, Norton Wisdom. [Applause]

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California Loco Norton Wisdom thanks the art-loving audience members at the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” book launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles, on June 17, 2023. Photo: Matt Cali.

Norton Wisdom: The way I paint, when I make my art, is I’m kind of a vehicle for what’s around me. And I’d just like to say that what’s out here [around me] is California Locos. I am so humbled by everybody that came here for this event. That, to me, is what my art is about: what is transpiring here today. So, I’m just deeply honored to see you participating in what we all participated in. When I figured out who I wanted to be, I realized it could only happen here in Southern California among people like you. So, I thank you. I have to thank you for who I am. [Applause]

Tourjé: John Van Hamersveld? “The Endless Summer” is here. [Applause]

John Van Hamersveld: I wrote a book [in 2010] about growing up in Southern California, about 10,000 copies, and it sold out. And it’s really about the subcultures of being a surfer at 10 years old [in the early ’50s] with Phil Becker, being at Surfer Magazine when it first started with John Severson. And then Bruce Brown living in the same neighborhood and I end up doing the [first] ‘Endless Summer’ [flyer-brochure image].

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California Loco John Van Hamersveld connects the subcultures during the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” book launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023. Photo: Matt Cali.

And then leaving Dana Point to go into Hollywood. Going to Chouinard for a year and a half or so and meeting a lot of people. Then all of a sudden, the ‘Endless Summer’ poster is created. And so worldwide, it’s like The Beatles at that time.

Somebody said I could get a job at Capitol Records. So, I go up there, and I show the [“Endless Summer”] poster, and I get a job for the vice president of the CRDC [Capitol Records Distribution Corp.], as his personal art director. And I end up doing The Beatles’ ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ [cover in late 1967].

Then through creating a ballroom for the rock and roll bands [Pinnacle concerts at the Shrine in L.A., 1967-68], and then doing album covers [including The Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street,” 1972], I was in it for like 20 years.

So, as the years passed, I grew through those subcultures. And each subculture I went through would become a worldwide phenomenon.

This book is a lot like that. It’s a collage of all those years, all those moments, all put together. [Applause]

Tourjé: It is a collage. The problem is, dealing with five people is like a three-dimensional problem, and you’re trying to put it in two dimensions. That was part of why it took so long, because I had to try to sample the timelines and the lives of all these guys, including me.

Ladies and gentlemen, Chaz Bojórquez. [Applause]

Chaz Bojórquez: First of all, I’d like to thank you all for showing up. Because California Locos is a concept. It’s kind of like a shared experience. We’re sharing it right now. Everybody here is a Loco, right? [Applause]

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California Loco Chaz Bojórquez explains that being “crazy about life” in L.A. and Southern California is something all the Locos and their fans have in common as he speaks during the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” book launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles, on June 17, 2023. Photo: Matt Cali.

Bojórquez: Because we’re not crazy stupid, we’re crazy about life. We’re crazy about L.A. We’re crazy about the sea. We grew up with surfing and skating and hot-rodding, gangsters that tag graffiti, and all that.

[To the audience] You guys, look at yourselves. You guys got Levi’s. You got biker shoes. You got skater T-shirts and all that. We are all part of that. Even our mothers. It’s multigenerational.

Joining this group helped me understand exactly what California is about. It’s about more than just graffiti or surf or any one thing. It’s about this united effort we all create that’s unique to California.

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California Loco Chaz Bojórquez lauds the Locos and their fans during the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” book launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023. Photo: Gary Leonard.

We’re going to praise ourselves. We are special. We are great artists. Some of the best artists in the world are here in Los Angeles. So, I’m glad to know Dave. He’s the leader of our group. He’s helped to promote and make all this happen. And I’d like to thank you again for making it happen for us. Thank you. [Applause]

Tourjé: Gary Wong.

Gary Wong: Hey, hey. [Laughs] Look here. We’ve all been here a long time, right? But I must say, first of all, all props and high praises to Dave Tourjé. [Applause]

Wong: It comes from his heart. He puts everything he has to what he believes in. A man of high integrity. To all of these guys and a bunch of y’all, too, in fact – y’all are here, so I’m going to just include you – are people with a high level of integrity. I’m not talking about people that sell out. It’s easy to sell out because the carrot is dangling in our faces every day. The idea is counterculture or creating something new with what you got and what you know.

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California Loco Gary Wong talks about how the five artists joining forces has widened all of their perspectives about art as fellow Locos Chaz Bojórquez and John Van Hamersveld watch the crowd during the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” book launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023. Photo: Matt Cali.

Now, some of us went to art school. Some of us went and got degrees, and education, and art education in fine art. Or you can [get] educated from the street. Either way, we found that we’re all climbing the same mountain, just finding different pathways to the top. But once we all get to the top, we look around, and we got the same view.

I believe we are close to being at the top because we’re all kind of seeing the same thing – eye to eye, heart to heart. But yes, it’s true. California is – and we all know it – one of the most unique places in the world. And if I wasn’t involved with these guys, I would have never really been able to piece that one together. Because until we found each other, we all had our own narrow perspectives as to what art is.

So, we all have a different take on what art is. Be it graphic, fine art, painting, drawing, designing, whatever. Music, not music, with music, without music. It’s all art. As well as seeing, believing, accepting, understanding. Those things that are really invisible. But the artist, the viewer, and the participants in these moments and times of creation are really essential, especially today in this culture, the way things are.

So, once again, everybody has a different approach, but when we all get to the top of the mountain, we all get the same view.

California Loco Gary Wong speaks to the audience as his fellow Locos Dave Tourjé, Chaz Bojórquez, John Van Hamersveld, and Norton Wisdom tune in during the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” book launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

I want to thank my brethren here in the California Locos and the ever-expanding vision from Paulo and the book, and of the doors that are going to be open to understanding what L.A. is.

Now, I just want to say one thing. When I was a kid, I used to hear L.A. has no culture. L.A. is not New York. L.A. is spread out. L.A. has no…they don’t care. You can tear it down and build something new. That’s L.A. Well, we’ve done the tearing down, and we’re doing the building. And this is what’s new. So when the doors open, we definitely plan to put our big-ass feet through it and move forward into the future. Thank you all for coming. We love you. [Applause]

Tourjé: Gary Wong. So, thank you all. We’re going to start signing again, assuming somebody wants our autograph.

california locos
The California Locos greet art fans and collectors and sign new limited edition books and skateboards during the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023. Photo: Gary Leonard.

The Locos is about you really. I was asked what the Locos was about in one of our shows, as people were taking pictures in front of the paintings and laughing. I told the writer, “Look at these people. It’s like they’re looking into a mirror. That’s really what it is.” It’s really not about us. We’re representatives. It’s about you. It’s about the people that do what we do, too, and follow what we’re doing. So, we’ll keep it going. Thank you all again.” [Applause]

california locos
California Locos Chaz Bojórquez and Dave Tourjé, Paulo von Vacano of DRAGO, Dave’s mother Celia Tourjé, and Locos Gary Wong, Norton Wisdom, and John Van Hamersveld gather to celebrate the launch of “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

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Dave Tourjé Q&A on ‘Renaissance & Rebellion’: ‘No One Rests’

A few days after the Eastern Projects gallery event, this writer spoke with Dave Tourjé to find out more about “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion.” Here’s a transcript of the conversation (slightly edited for clarity and flow), along with more photos from the June 17 launch party.

Los Angeles artist, Chouinard Foundation co-founder, California Locos founder, and now author Dave Tourjé stands outside the Eastern Projects gallery in Chinatown, Downtown Los Angeles, at the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” book launch party on June 17, 2023. Photo: Matt Cali.

Stephen K. Peeples: How involved were each of the California Locos as you worked on “Renaissance & Rebellion”? And how did you juggle their personalities and high standards and expectations and your own, and still make everyone happy?

Dave Tourjé: The guys were not physically involved with it that much, unless I got into a jam, and threw them a question. They trust me. But your question is interesting because they’re sort of omnipresent in the process. I know how good they are, how they want to be represented, how exacting they are as artists. They would not cut me a fucking inch of slack if I goofed it up or did something stupid. I knew I’d get torched. So, the truth is, their presence was constant, although not physical. It elevated my game as if they were sitting in the room.

Peeples: It’s a combination of iconic works each Loco is associated with, or that is associated with each Loco. But there’s also material new or unique to this project that the public’s never seen. John told me he had created some new art that wound up in the book. I’m assuming the other guys did too. Please give me an overview of the iconic, rare, or new art in the book.

california locos
Southern California surf legend Herbie Fletcher chats with his lifelong friend John Van Hamersveld (aka “Hammer,” as nicknamed by his teenage surf pals in the South Bay) as JVH’s fellow California Locos Dave Tourjé (mostly), Chaz Bojórquez, and Gary Wong talk with other fans and sign books during the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles, June 17, 2023. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

Tourjé: The one thing about the Locos: None of us rest on any past icon that becomes popular in our art forms. No one rests. Knowing the guys are working all the time, and I’m working all the time, I had to draw a conclusion to the book. I wanted the book to be a clear snapshot of each of them and us basically from birth to deadline day. So, the end of the book is what the guys were literally working on at the deadline. I was choosing new shit right up to the end.

Given everything available to me, from birth to the present, I had to figure that out in terms of the timeline for each guy. I had to mix iconic stuff with experimental stuff, obscure stuff, and photographs that were never seen. I had to weave skateboards into it. I was working a lot with Nano [Nóbrega, “Renaissance & Rebellion” creative director], who is a skateboard designer. So, I was handling the overview, the structure, and overall aesthetics at times, and then he was getting into the trenches. It basically came down to what he said at the event, when I told him, “Dude, look at it this way: Every spread is a skateboard. Start.”

RELATED: California Locos, Rick Griffin Family Drop New Skateboards, Merch

Peeples: The Locos are not just single-media artists. Collectively, you’re involved in the whole cross-section of artistic expression.

Tourjé: Yeah, that made things complicated, because the question became, how do I integrate the films, let’s say, I made with the art shows, with the history, the history of each guy, the history of the Locos as a group? How does Chouinard play in? How does original writing play in?

So, basically, I looked at it like I was making a piece of art. I’ve done books and catalogs, but nothing like this. This had to in itself be a piece of art.

california locos
Representatives of the next generation of artists meet, talk with, and have their new books signed by California Locos John Van Hamersveld, Gary Wong, and Norton Wisdom during the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” book launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

That’s why I took it so far on the aesthetic points. And the quality had to match up to what the Locos do, which is to make art of very high quality. It had to compete with that, it had to measure up. I dug deep, man. It was a big challenge for me because I don’t do this sort of thing. “Renaissance & Rebellion” is the first book that has my name on it as an author.

Peeples: Well, you did a smashing job, first-timer or not. But obviously, you had a handful of co-conspirators. First, how did you hook up with your publisher? He seems to be the project’s biggest champion.

Tourjé: Paulo came to town for our Easter project show in 2017, and he was very impressed. He’s a publisher who’s really…he’s an L.A. culture baby, okay? That’s his passion. He loves street culture and particularly L.A. and has published books to that effect.

So, we were going to have a meeting, and that did not happen. But he started talking to me once he left town. My studio manager was working on a book at the time. The whole concept was, it came after the show, but it looked like a catalog to the show.

I put a stop to it. It just made no sense to me to issue a catalog six months after a show has ended. There’s just nothing to that.

california locos
California Locos Gary Wong and Norton Wisdom are pictured during the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” book launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

Then Paulo started asking, “Well, what kind of a book would you do?” And I said, “I don’t know, I don’t make books. But if there was a book, it should be some kind of book about the California Locos, explaining the thing.” Then he got onto the idea of “the manifesto,” and started prodding me about the manifesto I needed to write. I’m like, “No, no, no! I’m too busy!” But finally, I bit the hook and took it on.

Then I learned how difficult that was, when you’re juggling five different timelines, five different artists, the origin stories, the important things that need to be said, how to structure the writing, deciding whose essays to put in, and all this stuff, you know.

Peeples: Oh, yes.

Tourjé: And then, photography – do we have the rights, gaining the rights if not, do we have the high-res…? It’s unbelievable.

Peeples: It was a lot more than you had expected. But it presented a singular opportunity to reinvent the form or create something you’ve never done before. So that goes back to you looking at it as a multimedia art project rather than a conventional book.

Tourjé: Right. And I wasn’t chained down by a budget. In other words, it’s not like the publisher says, okay, I’m going to pay you $10,000. So now the quality gets clipped based on the time I’m spending. It was just one sort of battle cry, which was, make it as good as you make your art, period. That’s it. It’s one and done. It has to live. I told Paulo, if every book burned except six, and each one went to my granddaughters, I’d be happy. I have to do it on that level, where the content says it all, and that I’d be happy knowing my granddaughters would know who I was.

california locos
Dave Tourjé and grandkids Levi Beattie, Rowyn Beattie, Sienna Tourjé, and Bristol Beattie get loco about life during the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” book launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023. Photo: Matt Cali.

Peeples: It’s legacy for you and all these guys and your long-suffering families.

Tourjé: Yeah, exactly. And that’s the other responsibility, Stephen, because this is not a book about a few artists or a group show. Each Loco has a very significant legacy that deserves to be handled well and not shortchanged.

Peeples: Absolutely. That’s where we started this conversation – how do you do that and make everyone happy?

Tourjé: I think it would have been difficult even for an expert. You can multiply that by five in terms of difficulty for me, probably. But in the end, as you say, it was an opportunity, a challenge. I feel good I met the challenge.

The people who helped me – you met some of them at the gallery. Nano, again, I’ve got to give him huge props. I lean on him. He gets me. He can take the heat from me. Walter Garrote, our layout guy, took a lot of punishment. Changing, frustrations, more changing, more frustrations. Then my studio manager, Michelle Irwin, got thrown into it, and instead of managing my studio, she was searching all the drives, finding the photos, finding the high-res versions, and getting the rights cleared from unruly photographers.

california locos
California Locos John Van Hamersveld (or part of his hat and glasses), Gary Wong, and Norton Wisdom, along with their fellow Locos Chaz Bojórquez and Dave Tourjé (not pictured) inspired multiple generations of art and Los Angeles-Southern California art enthusiasts during the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” book launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023. Photo: Gary Leonard.

And then there’s my executive assistant, Alana Reinhart [organizational and creative oversight for the book], who had to listen to me bitching about everything every single day.

Michelle Deziel-Hernandez, the former curator of the contemporary collection at the Norton Simon Museum, wrote the major essay. She curated shows at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. Major chops. She has loved what we’re doing from the beginning.

Michelle’s the brains of “Renaissance & Rebellion.” If you read her essay, she intellectualizes the whole California Locos thing and contextualizes our place in the broader matrix of SoCal art history in a way only somebody that grooved into intelligentsia could. She latches onto the energy, the innovation, the history.

It inspires her from the standpoint of what gets her going, which is history, significance, aesthetics, energy, and frankly, subversion. She’s got a punk rock streak.

california locos
California Locos John Van Hamersveld, Gary Wong, and Norton Wisdom are pictured during the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” book launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

Peeples: So, how many books are in the first edition of “Renaissance & Rebellion?”

Tourjé: There were 3,500 books printed in Italy. Then the idea came for an event, and I couldn’t wait for shipping them by boat. So, I airfreighted in 100 books, put another 400 on a boat, which are mine, to arrive in August, and then 3,000 stay in Italy for international distribution. DRAGO, Paulo von Vacano’s publishing company, will handle those.

Peeples: Great – according to the book’s credits page, their headquarters are in Rome, but they have branches in North America, Canada, the United States, Switzerland, Europe, North Africa, Asia, and South America.

Tourjé: The concept is, DRAGO is going to sell those 3,000 books. I’m going to send mine mostly to museum curators. Michelle is on board to help me distribute those to the right hands. The idea is to create opportunities rather than income.

Peeples: Well, again, it’s a stunning accomplishment. As a book editor, I know how difficult it is to produce a perfect book when humans are involved. But it’s damn close.

california locos
California Locos fans queue up to get their books signed during the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

Tourjé: Thank you. I know there are a couple of errors in there. And then there’s just forgetting the people from my long past who inspired me over the years. I said to Paulo, “All I want to do is thank my parents, right?” He’s like, “No, no, Dave, this is your chance! You got to thank everybody!” I said, “Nah, man, I’ve been there. You can never remember everybody!” And he says, “Nah, you got to do it!” Sure enough, man, I’m missing several people. That’s just the way it is.

As an artist, I rely on mistakes to open up doors to progressing the work. I’m not too attached to perfection, though in film and audio editing I am a beast at the minute.

Peeples: Well, none of that takes anything away from what is otherwise a beautiful work, much more than just a book. It’s an experience. Now, you said earlier this was “one and done.” Do you ever foresee a second edition of “Renaissance & Rebellion”?

Tourjé: If this one sells out, and Paulo and DRAGO come to me and say, “Look, we want to print another 1,000 or 2,000,” I am cleared for takeoff on a second edition.

And that would give me an opportunity to change a few things and add the names I left out. I would clean all that up for sure.

california locos
The shadowy figures of California Locos Dave Tourjé, Chaz Bojórquez, John Van Hamersveld, Gary Wong, and Norton Wisdom were projected on the wall at the Eastern Projects Gallery in Los Angeles during the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” book launch party on June 17, 2023. Photo of the photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

Peeples: Any other “Renaissance & Rebellion” events coming up?

Tourjé: No, we poured a lot into the launch event at the Eastern Projects gallery. And because of our distribution strategy, I have no reason to do more events at this point.

Right now, I’m gearing up to take the Locos to Europe on a museum tour next year, in the spring. Paulo is connecting us with the Museum of Rome, and then our intention is to hook another five to 10 museums around Europe, and also go to Asia. We want to create a triple-A-grade art show that travels through museums.

Peeples: It will have a selection of works by each of the Locos, no doubt, so the exhibit would be like a traveling iteration of the book, which Hammer at the book launch referred to as a collage?

Tourjé: Exactly. But also with new works they have created since the book was published. The Locos are all about the dynamics of creating in the present and being an artist now, not just resting on some past iconography. So, we’ll have a mixture of historic works and all the way up to new works.

california locos
A huge blow-up of the “California Locos: Renaissance & Rebellion” cover was displayed during the book’s launch party at the Eastern Projects gallery in Los Angeles on June 17, 2023. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

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Special thanks to the California Locos, Nano Nóbrega, Michelle Irwin, Gary Leonard, John Troxell, and Matt Cali.

Stephen K. Peeples is a Grammy-nominated multimedia writer-producer and award-winning radio/record-industry veteran raised in Miami and Los Angeles by career newspaper journalists and music lovers. Based in Santa Clarita, California, and retired after a 45-year media career, Peeples is authoring a new book celebrating the 60th anniversary in 2024-2026 of Bruce Brown’s epic surf movie “The Endless Summer.”  See the “About” page on Peeples’ website. More original stories and exclusive interviews are posted there and on his YouTube channel.

Article: California Locos Art Collective Publishes ‘Renaissance & Rebellion’
Category: News and Reviews
Author: Stephen K. Peeples
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