One of the most firme lowrider bombs ever is making its way to the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton today. Gilbert "Magu" Luján first painted the body of his 1950 Chevy coupe with the vibrant brushstrokes that made him an influential Chicano artist. The car traveled the nation, not on a cross-country trip, but as a centerpiece for the "Hispanic Art in the United States" tour that stopped at prominent museums along the way. Luján had to give up the storied ride during hard financial times. It traded hands and eventually ended up at an auto pawn shop in Long Beach.
That's when Fullerton resident and Chicano art enthusiast Paul Dunlap happened upon the Chevy coupe and bought it. He contacted Luján to restore it to its former glory and an a friendship was born.
"It was pure chance," Dunlaps says of his find back in 2004. He saw the car on eBay and eventually it listed the Magu connection. "I'm a fan of Chicano art and I recognized that name. As soon as I did, I went down and bought it!" The kid at the auto pawn shop didn't realize the significance of the car sitting in the lot, telling Dunlap he could get a new paint job and still have a nice lowrider.
Sharing a love for cars and art, Dunlap and Luján remained friends until Magu died from cancer in July 2011. As the Weekly noted in its obit, he formed, alongside Carlos Almaraz, Frank Romero, and Beto de la Rocha, the influential "Los Four" Chicano art group. Luján finished his MFA at UC Irvine in the early 70s and had come back to OC as recently as 2008 for an exhibit organized by SolArt Gallery in Santa Ana.
With Veterano Cars: Carros, Caruchas y Carchangas at Fullerton's Muckenthaler Center, the OC celebration of Luján's life and work continues. Dunlap is bringing the storied car to the cultural center and plans to talk about his friendship with the artist as the featured guest for a free gallery tour tonight.
"He appreciated the fact I was preserving his work, Dunlaps says. "We both benefited in unexpected ways through our friendship." Luján introduced Dunlap to the his friends in the Chicano art community telling skeptics that the right guy had his old car. Dunlap commissioned him to finish the Chevy coupe like he always wanted.
Luján held a brilliant vision to transform the plain white interior of the car. Sketches shared with Dunlap showed the front seats replaced with a cushy burrito at the bottom and a hard shell taco to lean back on. The back seats were to be similarly outfitted with a tamal and cactus paddles. An auto upholstery shop finally brought everything to life and the car to completion.
It also further solidified a friendship that continued until Luján passing. "He really enjoyed helping other people and inspiring them," Dunlap says. "He was always an uplifting guy, just a bright light."
Veterano Cars: Carros, Caruchas y Carchangas Gallery Tour with Paul Dunlap at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center, 1201 West Malvern Ave., Fullerton, Thurs. Aug. 13. 7:30 p.m. Free!