OC WEEKLY: Was Kustom Kulture always considered part of the lowbrow art world?

GREG ESCALANTE: Kustom Kulture didn't exist till the [first] "Kustom Kulture" show. . . . So what Laguna [Art Museum] was doing was a show to define and validate this new movement, and the show was named "Kustom Kulture" by curator Susan Anderson.

So Anderson coined the term Kustom Kulture? Was Laguna Art Museum the first to acknowledge the movement?

Rick Surf Guitar by Billy Gibbons, 1965, custom Fender Jaguar
John Gilhooley
Rick Surf Guitar by Billy Gibbons, 1965, custom Fender Jaguar
Frank: An incarnation of Ed Roth
John Gilhooley
Frank: An incarnation of Ed Roth

Location Info


Huntington Beach Art Center

538 Main St.
Huntington Beach, CA 92648

Category: Art Galleries

Region: Huntington Beach



‚ÄĘ VIDEO: Greg Escalante, C.R. Stecyk and Paul Frank Discuss 'Kustom Kulture II' Art Show

‚ÄĘ SLIDESHOW: 'Kustom Kulture II' is the Return of Rods, Rags & Rat Finks

"Kustom Kulture II" at the Huntington Beach Art Center, 538 Main St., Huntington Beach, (714) 374-1650; www.huntingtonbeachartcenter.org. Open Tues.-Thurs., noon-8 p.m.; Fri., noon-6 p.m.; Sat., noon-5 p.m. Opening reception Sat., 7-9 p.m. Through Aug. 31. Free.

Yes, she did, but almost no one knows it. Laguna wasn't only the first museum to acknowledge the movement—it should also get credit for creating it! It was weird because, at that time, people used to denounce the museum as behind the Orange Curtain and that nothing any good could come out of a sleepy beach museum that was the oldest cultural institution in Southern California. So basically, while hip LA was sleeping, Laguna blew it out of the water and started the art movement of the century.

Do you remember when you first started getting into art?

This issue of Thrasher magazine came out in about 1987, and Robert Williams was on the cover. And it just blew my mind, the artwork, because I had never seen anything like that. It was like Salvador Dalí had grown up in Southern California, with all his skill and ability, but with a whole different thing he was trying to express. . . .

When I looked through the whole article, I saw a painting that was more amazing than the next painting. I noticed the guy who took the photos for the paintings [was someone] I had met before, and it was this guy right here [gestures to Stecyk]. The guy who had introduced me to Stecyk was Bolton Colburn, who worked at Laguna Art Museum, and so I called up Bolton and I said, "Do you know how much these paintings go for?"

And so what he did instead, he called me back and was like, "Here's Robert Williams' phone number," and I just go, "Whoa." [Laughs] Because I was all intimidated, the paintings were so freaky, I just thought, "Man, whoever made these things can just be weirder than I can deal with."

You were scared of him?

Yeah! So it was one of those things that sits on your desk for two or three weeks, and finally, you get in the right mood, and you go, "Okay, I'll call him," and so I call him, and he just seems like a great guy and invites me out to see his paintings that are going out to his next show. . . . We go out to lunch, and it was just one of the greatest art-experience field trips.

What was the name of that first Robert Williams painting you purchased?

Okay, Williams paintings have, like, a whole paragraph for each name, but it's The Boy Eating a Half-Rat.

Can you describe it?

It's a . . . [pauses to gather his words] Cubist background with all these shacks and things like a city and lighting and dark, and it's got a cartoonish guy with a really weird-looking face, and he's got a half-rat by the tail, with guts hanging out of it, and he's about to eat it. And then, around the border, it's got this third element that's just a flat design, and it's this weird cartoon creature that's not . . . like an animal or anything, just kind of a, you know, anthropomorphized silhouette, and it's jumping over a candlestick. And finally, in the last frame, the candlestick gets it, and then it burns up. [Laughs heartily] So that was on the cover of Thrasher. And that was the first painting I bought.

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BILLY GIBBONS, ZZ TOP: "The first actual 'Kustom Kulture' installation in Laguna is what got the ball rolling, bringing focus toward the importance of what—up until then—were not considered legitimate art forms. Following the overwhelming acceptance of the many aspects and substance of what Kustom Kulture embraces, it has gained an unparalleled measure of global appreciation. . . . As far as the guitar loaned for this exhibit, it’s evidence of the strong impact California brought to the fore. Hot rodding and the West Coast surf scene and, of course, a Fender Jaguar model guitar, complete with a machine-turned scratchplate and 'Rick Surfboards' sticker, still stands as an iconic, personal pathos of everyday living."

C.R. STECYK III: "The Reverend Billy F. Gibbons and I grew up at different outposts, separated by the desert, some mountains and having the Mother Road, Route 66, being kinda in between. I was situated at the highway’s terminus, where the pavement trailed into the briney deep. Billy’s digs were in Houston, down toward the gulf. Surfing, cars and music are things that continue to motivate both of us. . . . Our inexpugnable destiny was forged by Dale Velzy when the hot-rodding surfboard shaper suggested we formally interact. Velzy rode with the Booze Fighters and piloted a Barris chopped Merc back in the ’50s. I ended up being the documentarian for the creation of Cadzilla, the groundbreaking custom ’48 Cadillac commissioned by Gibbons. It was designed by Larry Erickson and crafted at Boyd Coddington’s Stanton atelier. Hot Rods By Boyd had a mural painted by Ed 'Big Daddy' Roth on the exterior. . . . Billy was a big supporter of Kustom Kulture, generously shipping out the Eliminator Coupe for the original exhibition. The Eliminator was the most recognizable car of the period, and it is still widely seen on MTV in ZZ Top’s cinematic trilogy. Gibbons also dispatched Pete Chapouris, the originator of the California Kid ’34 Ford coupe, to install the vehicle for us. In 1974, the California Kid was the star car of a movie featuring Martin Sheen, Vic Morrow and Nick Nolte. . . . Other commonalities include my cousin Dana Rodgers having been Miss Texas and Rick Rubin, another longtime mutual friend who produced ZZ Top’s last album. Mike Ness of Black Kat Customs recently cut heads with the Rev at the House of Blues. Ness also was kind enough to appear in Fin, a recent video piece that I made. Social Distortion also performed the piece’s score. . . . 'Kustom Kulture II' features Billy’s 1965 Fender Jaguar guitar, which is adorned with a Rick Surfboards logo, custom engine turned pick guard, onboard circuit boosting and an electronic microammeter. Gibbons used the axe on the ZZ Top album Tejas."

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The show is really quite nice, and is much more surfed out than the original show. The opening was a scene and a half, with so many people in attendance it was hard to move. The overall effect of the show was celebratory, more so than intellectual. The Munster Mobile by Barris was magnificent. All in all, this is a most enjoyable exhibit, and the curators and the Huntington Beach Art Center deserve credit for the huge effort it took to get this show together on short notice. And the Western Exterminator show was in 1985, not '87....... SHOW RUNS TILL AUGUST 31st, and put in some money in the tip jar the museum has out for donations~~~ so quality exhibits can continue there. 


To be fair and accurate, and not to take away from the well-deserved accolades in this article, the "KUSTOM KULTURE" exhibit was a knock-off of the "Western Exterminators" show at the ZERO ONE GALLERY in 1987. That was the first exhibit to create the Hot Rod Triad of VON DUTCH, BIG DADDY ROTH and ROBERT WILLIAMS in a gallery setting. And the term Kustom Kulture was not made by the Laguna Art Museum. They originally titled it Custom Culture, and it was suggested by "The Pizz" to use the "K" in Von Dutch's language, where he Germanized things. Von Dutch put up a sign when he worked at Barris' shop in the mid-fifties, KUSTOM Colors....... History should be accurate, and credit given when credit is due.......  


This is a major cultural event.  You've got to hand it Laguna Art Museum and Escalante for creating awareness around this timely art movement.  And everyone quoted in the article is so well-educated and articulate.  Except for Paul Frank.  He comes off as a moron who can't even form a complete sentence or finish a thought without "trailing off" then delving into blatant self-promotion.  But kudos to Escalante and Stecyk for carrying the torch of this awesome movement and for letting Frank tag along with the big boys.  Escalante and Stecyk are intellectual giants who really know their history.  Which is obviously why Chang focused on what THEY had to say.  They were very interesting, well versed and they came across as authentic art lovers.  I hope they will educate us further with a speaking engagement at HBAC.

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