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I’ve been influenced by both Chicano and urban street art since the 1970’s. I’ve noticed that in these last ten years urban art has risen in popularity with young teenagers. Since New York first influenced Los Angeles with their style of Graffiti art, Los Angeles had to create their own unique style, a flavor that would set them completely apart from New York. Los Angeles had for years its own original gang style graffiti with its large block letters and their combination of large block old English combinations.  These were the first elements to fuse with the New York style letters to develop a new LA look.

 Crews like K2S, STN, LABS and others were some of the first groups I knew of that explored these possibilities and began  the road of innovation and pioneering for the development of letters that would be a signature style for the LA flavor. In today’s urban artistic development artists like Retna, Mac, Sinner, and others continue to incorporate Chicano/ Latino icons and imagery that encompasses the  fusion of urban art and Chicano art.  One artist in particular, Chaz, would be as the godfather of the transition between Chicano or Cholo letters and urban art lettering, composed of almost pure brush script, a masterful calligraphy stlye reminiscent to the classical Chinese calligraphy masters.

 In the mid 1990’s Los Angeles Graff writers began to incorporate images that were reminiscent to the Chicano murals of the 1970’s, images like lowriders, homeboys, old English fonts,I drew on these influences and produced many Chicano murals painting them entirely in spray paint through Los Angeles.  Peter Q. was also known during this time to paint what resembled a combination of pop art with prison art painted in spray paints by him and younger artists (see Chicano Graffiti book).

More artists such as Sinner, Nuke, Chose also began to almost re-emerge the imagery of the chicano mural art movement of the past, images of Aztec warriors, indigenous political commentaries, Stencil portraits of Orozco and Frida.  This led to a collaborative mural painted by many of these artists entitled “Homage to the Mexican Masters” whose study for this mural is hanging on a wall at the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles.  The mural painted in East los Angeles depicts many the Mexican great muralist and painters: such as Siquieros, Orozco, Rivera, Frida, Tamayo, Posada, Camarena and even Dr. Atl.

The popularity of Magazines such as Juxtapoz began to give validity and a voice to more emerging urban artists also known as lowbrow artists. Working more on canvases than on walls artists like Germ Sacarias and Mario Ybarra Jr  are finding  new doors in which Chicano artists can cross and apply artistic liberty and incorporate innovative techniques that push the boundaries of what is Chicano art.  Today Urban Chicano art is finding its way past the galleries and into the tattoo world, fashion industry and photography, on shirt designs for companies such as upper playground, Joker brand and OG Abel.

My hope is that the term “Urban Chicano” can attempt to unite and inspire the new generation of Chicano who is being born on the streets of LA everyday and to this new breed of Angelino the spectrum of possibility is ever widening. But I believe we must understand where we came from at what price, who were the pioneers (East los Street scapers) and who are the shakers and movers of today (Chose, Spade, the Oriel’s and many others) and who will open the paths for the future (you).

John “Zender” Estrada


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