Greg Escalante, pioneer in the lowbrow art scene and co-founder of Juxtapoz Magazine, has died.
Escalante, 62, the owner of several art galleries, was also the brother of Joe Escalante, bassist for the Vandals. He was a tremendous presence in Huntington Beach.
The renowned art collector held an exhibition titled “Surf Story” on Aug. 26 at his Gregorio Escalante Gallery, which opened in 2015 in Los Angeles.
A native of Los Alamitos and bond trader by profession, Escalante started scouring the art galleries and swap meets of Southern California in the 1980s to find any art, kustom kulture artifacts, or just weird stuff that he could get his hands on. “I tend to do things overboard . . . [but] art is the heroin of collecting,” Escalante told the Los Angeles Times in 1992. That led him to meet Robert Williams, the legendary underground cartoonist; together, the two went on to co-found (along with other lowbrow luminaries such as Fausto Vitello; C.R. Stecyk III, a.k.a. Craig Stecyk; and Eric Swenson) Juxtapoz in 1994. The magazine helped to launch Kustom Kulture and all of its siblings into the art mainstream.
Escalante was also one of the driving forces behind the iconic show “Kustom Kulture: Von Dutch, Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth, Robert Williams and Others,” held in 1993 at the Laguna Art Museum, where Escalante was a trustee. “The show proved to be pivotal to the movement, illustrating Southern California custom-car culture’s influential reach throughout the 1940s and beyond,” we wrote in a 20-years retrospective tied to the “Kustom Kulture II” exhibit at the Huntington Beach Art Center, brought together by Escalante and curators Stecyk and Paul Frank.
Escalante, who evolved from collecting art to publishing prints, later opened (with Douglas Nason) one of the most influential galleries in Los Angeles, Copro Nason (now simply Copro). Escalante (also known as Joe Copro) put together some of the most memorable art exhibitions of the past two decades and helped to break numerous artists and is widely regarded as one of the most important art collectors of our time.
News of Escalante’s death came this morning. There’s been an outpouring of grief from many friends and members of the art world on Escalante’s Facebook page.
“He lived his life for other people,” says his brother Joe in a message to the Weekly. “Ask the tons of artists he helped like shag, Robert Williams, shepherd Fairey his daughter Isabella. He was the mother of all big brothers. The best you could ever hope to have.”
He also shared this anecdote:
“In about 1977, or so we were browsing through a record shop in OC. He picked up the Ramones’ first LP and said, ‘We have to get this.’ It has a song called ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ on it. Then he gave it to me and it changed my life when later I realized I already owned a punk record years before I had ever heard the word ‘punk.’
He took me as an 11-year-old to see David Bowie on the Diamond Dogs tour, then to Rodney’s English Disco in Hollywood afterward. He got me a job at the Disneyland Hotel selling welded statues when I was 8 years old. That is not a typo. I was 8. He worked nearby and drive me every night. I could go on for hours with stories like this.”
Below is a video we put together in 2013 featuring Escalante, Stecyk and Frank discussing “Kustom Kulture II,” as well as what has drawn them to this scene and how it has influenced them over the years.
More info on this story as it develops. . . .