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Gilbert 'Magu' Lujan, influential Chicano artist, dies at 70

July 25, 2011 |  6:20 pm

Magu Gilbert “Magú” Luján, a painter, muralist and sculptor whose whimsical, slyly humorous artworks, which frequently evoked a rollicking, mythical view of Mexican American life, graced museum walls, the Hollywood & Vine subway station and other public places, died Sunday, according to a Facebook posting by his family. He was 70.

The Pomona resident had been battling cancer for several years, according to a number of friends and colleagues who confirmed the news of his death.

A pioneer of the Chicano art movement that took root in the social and cultural upheavals of the 1960s and '70s, Magú, as he was universally known, was among the first U.S. artists of Mexican descent to establish an international career.

He also was an enthusiastic facilitator of gatherings and exhibitions of Chicano artists and art collectives, most prominently the Chicano collective known as Los Four, and a catalytic figure in bringing their work to the wider art-viewing public, as well as art scholars and critics.

“One only has to examine the barrio to see that the elements to choose from are as infinite as any culture allows,” Magú once remarked.

In an interview on Monday, Chon Noriega, director of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, described Magú as a “change agent” who drew inspiration not only from his deep knowledge of art history but from the various communities where he made his home in greater Los Angeles and the Fresno area.

Magú also was instrumental, Noriega said, in expanding the framework of Chicano art beyond mainly political concerns to aesthetic ones as well.

“He really defined a very unique role,” Noriega said. “Rather than seeing the art as merely a kind of instrument for social change,” Magú insisted that art “had to have integrity in order to have that impact.”

Drawing on indigenous Mesoamerican art and iconography, as well as the Chicano popular culture that surrounded him ever since his East L.A. youth, Magú populated his canvases and murals with Aztec-accessorized lowrider cars, plumed gods zipping by on serpentine skateboards, candy-striped pre-Columbian pyramids, human-like animals and other flamboyantly colorful anthropomorphic creatures.

As a founding member of Los Four, which also included artists Carlos Almaraz, Beto de la Rocha and Frank Romero, Magú participated in a seminal four-man show at UC Irvine, and subsequently in an expanded version of the show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the early 1970s. Eventually, other artists, notably Judithe Hernández, joined the group and exhibited their work under the Los Four moniker.

According to a posting on the website magulandia.com, the dA Center for the Arts will host a benefit to promote the artist’s legacy, “Cruisin’ Magulandia,” next month in Pomona.

Information on survivors was unavailable Monday. Read the complete obituary on Gilbert “Magú” Luján.

-- Reed Johnson

Above: Gilbert "Magú" Luján as photographed by Harry Gamboa Jr. for the series "Chicano Male Unbonded." Credit: Courtesy of Harry Gamboa Jr.

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