On the road
Tales From the Boulevard
I watched the first 20 minutes of The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift to prepare for my interview with Tales From the Boulevard curators Tony Medellin and Ritchie Lopez Jr. That is kind of embarrassing. But what is more embarrassing is that my “research” was not even in the right genre. Like its name suggests, the tricked-out cars in The Fast and The Furious are fast and possibly furious. But the tricked-out cars that Medellin and Lopez are interested in are low and slow.
Since the 1940s, the term lowrider has been used to refer to special types of cars as well as their drivers. The cars range from customized Impalas and Cadillacs to Monte Carlos, El Caminos and Ford Mercurys.
“Basically anything that looks good low,” said Lopez. Cars are custom built, often costing up to $100,000 in modified parts, paint, chrome, hydraulics and lowered suspensions.
“Nothing can go untouched,” said Medellin.
Often synonymous with Chicano culture, lowriding has expanded in the last few decades to include other hot spots—like Japan!—where publications such as Lowrider Magazine have expanded their reach since the ’80s. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the love that lowriders have for cars and community.
Tales From the Boulevard is an exhibit showcasing both. On display at Lasting Dose Gallery through the end of the month, Tales brings together artists from all over the country—including local talent like Armando Serrano, Handsome Hernan, and Mike Lucido—in celebration of lowrider culture.
There are hand drawings of custom cars, old records that feature R&B, oldies, and funk cruising tracks, airbrushed metal pinstripe jobs, photographs of zoot-suit era rigs, and images of attractive women throughout.
Several tattoo-style paintings and flatsheets also hang on the walls. “I kind of handled the tattoo side of the show,” said Medellin, a tattoo artist himself. “It’s just the people who get the cars [also] get the tattoos … in the early years of tattooing, the people who were getting black and gray single needlework were Chicanos, prisoners, Mexican folk.”
This broad grouping of Latinos, criminals, and lowriders is not a new thing and like any other stereotype, there are those that fit the bill and those that don’t. Responses to the stigma are as diverse as the drivers themselves. Some lowriders choose to change the narrative—like the United Cities Car Club in Alton, Texas, that last month modified a donated and decommissioned police car to improve public perception of local car clubs and law enforcement. Others, like Medellin and Lopez, are less intent on making a political statement than simply showing all sides of the culture.
“I don’t think [prison culture] is a huge part of [lowriding],” said Medellin. “It has nothing to really do with it, but at the same time it kind of does.”
This contradicting perspective is on display in a corner of the exhibit, where Rome Chacon, a convicted felon serving two life terms for first degree murder, has his own wall of paintings and the closest thing to an artist statement in the show.
Looking at his work, it’s clear why he was included. Chacon’s representations of skulls, movie monsters, and realistic animals are impressive, especially when you find out that they were done in solitary confinement with handmade materials. It’s an inclusion that trusts the audience to make the distinction between exhibition of talent and endorsement of conduct.
And like with any good exhibit or Hollywood drag race sequel, there are always some questions left hanging.