About Gilbert “Magu” Lujan
By Peter Clothier
Not many men are given to be notable cultural pioneers as well as prolific and endlessly inventive artists in their own right. Count this one man, Gilbert “Magu” Lujan, among them. He is first and foremost an artist. Visit his studio, and you’ll be witness to the spectacle of a teeming, vibrant output of art works in a stunning variety of media—from assemblages of sticks and twigs to whimsical ceramic sculptural objects and a plethora of prints and canvases. This is the heart of Magulandia.
What’s remarkable about this work is the energy with which it gathers a rich texture of cultural history and intensely personal symbol in its extravagantly colorful embrace. It’s a feast for the eye—but especially also for the mind. Magu’s wealth of imagery merges the traditions of art brut and folk art, Meso-American mythology and ritual, the Chicano culture of low-riders, murals and graffiti, the religious imagery of New World Catholicism and the political and sociological imperatives of socialism—along with the savvy self-awareness of contemporary American art since World War II. And if that’s a mouthful, so be it. Such is the range of Magu’s vision and creative reach.
All this, for the artist, is living tradition, genetic information as vital and fluid as the bloodstream. So let it be clear that this merger is embodied first and foremost in the actuality of each discreet object of Magu’s creation, whose seductive, often humorous, sometimes bawdy, always joyful allure is just the doorway into a complex of deeply human meanings and emotions. As with all good artworks, though, once we have exhausted those meanings we always return to that point where we look at them and just say, Yes.
The pioneering social work for which Magu is widely known proceeds from his creative energy, the art work. His efforts as an emerging artist and student in the master’s program at the University of California, Irvine in 1960s and the early 1970s changed the course of art history. Famously, at that time, he brought together Los Four—along with himself, the artists Carlos Almaraz, Frank Romero and Beto de la Rocha—who breached the sober, Euro-centric walls of academia and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art with the exuberant artistic energy that had been gathering on the streets—and particularly the walls—of East Los Angeles. A fervent, dedicated theorist and organizer, Magu was soon recognized as the fulcrum for burgeoning chicanismo, tirelessly promoting an alternative view to the dominant Western aesthetic and re-invigorating it with both a renewed social conscience and Latin passion.
Meet Magu in person and you’ll find him endlessly garrulous, spirited in his arguments, as eager to share his own ideas as he is to hear those of others. A born educator, he has the gift of inspiring those with whom he comes in contact. It is this quality, surely, that has made of him a leader in his own community of artists—a mantle that he nonetheless wears with modesty and circumspection.
In the constellation of our contemporary culture, Gilbert “Magu” Lujan occupies a unique and vitally important place.
Peter Clothier is the author of Persist: In Praise of the Creative Spirit in a World Gone Mad with Commerce. You can find him daily at his blog, The Buddha Diaries.”