The Enchanting World of a Chicano Trickster: The Whimsy in José Lozano’s Pictures

In Junot Diaz’s novel, This is How you Lose Her (2012), he tells of the Dominican experience in the U.S. and in particular Dominican love and life in New Jersey. The narratives portrayed are of everyday folks that simultaneously occupy two cultures and how they shape and negotiate their reality as they seek to redefine their identities. What is refreshing and distinct in his work is that his subjects are complex individuals full of gravitas, whose very real depiction collapses the fine line between good and evil.

Read More of the essay by Dianna Marisol Santillano

Visually, and on the other side of the coast, one can locate a similar type of authentic yet nuanced and multidimensional representation in the rich imagery produced by Chicano artist José Lozano. Born in Los Angeles, but having spent his childhood in the borderlands of Juarez, Mexico before returning to southern California where he attended art school and now resides, Lozano’s art bursts from these demographical and cardinal seams; unleashing an art that is at once whimsical, with its strong element of humor, but which is also endowed with an ever engaging tension and paradox that engrosses the viewer completely.

In his pictures, Lozano keenly captures and portrays a physical and psychic space of working-class folks, or gente, complete with culturally laden signifiers, portrayed in various social situations. Lozano’s worldbuilding is comprised of both fictional and nonfictional elements, settings and people, where random propositions are delivered on the picture-plane, unhinging the genre of straight up representational portraiture by endowing the non-fictional world with the sublime or obscure, resulting in visual magic.

Cropped snapshots of nightlife, with folks hanging out, couples hooking up, while others wrestle with existential dilemmas, are all rendered in a style that conflates popular illustration, absurdist Expressionism, and Mexican Modernist’s populism with Fauvist aesthetic sensibilities. Henri Matisse comes to mind with his love for color and flat surfaces and spontaneous flair as does George Grosz’s seething caricature drawings of city life.

This spontaneity in Lozano’s work is not by accident, as “he wants instant results, and therefore does not paint in oils”[1] —instead his media ranges from serigraphs, acrylic, gouache, multimedia, among others. In the spirit of ‘automatic-drawing’ or automatism as developed by the Surrealists, Lozano’s works are “painted drawings”, created rapidly and mined from his deeply imaginative mind. He avoids drawing from life, resulting in an incredibly personal style that consists of random juxtapositions infused with a Surrealistic dimension.

A quixotic social scene is portrayed in Angels Lit by Sin. Most of the subjects are sitting down and arrestingly looking back at the viewer. The naked women dancing upon table tops also stop as a floating angel hovers in the background . The ambiguity of the scene marks much of Lozano’s work but it is precisely why it captivates. Who are the angels that are lit by sin— is it the dancing women?

Likewise, in the intriguing gouache on paper work entitled Los Globos Lounge, the subjects are again set in a social situation with globos or balloons drifting away in the background. What is noteworthy in this series are the brick walls in the background serving as a sort of boundary or border. What are these walls demarcating? What lies beyond that wall? On the one side are sexy women and men smoking cigarettes, and on the other, a different type of promise —a different type of carnivalesque adventure; perhaps an innocent or pristine landscape, paradise? This demarcation is addressed in El Mictlan, in which the men and women are on one side of the wall and two vibrant angels on the other. The Spanish title of this work roughly translates into English as the underworld. In comic strip fashion, two of the figures have text balloons and are in a conversation. Lozano explains, “the lad is leaving to the other side, (and) the older man tells him “Why do you leave kid, over there they take your soul, here just your head”. [2]

In Lozano’s art, public spaces and events are made to feel intimate, and despite the incongruous nature of his work, the personal is there; for even though these works could be seen as portraiture, the fact is that these characters are figments of Lozano’s imagination. They are informed by personal observations of his community and family throughout his lifetime. Lozano certainly knows his subjects and approaches them with deep connection, as he chronicles his community and its popular culture in his multifaceted art practice.

In an unexpected shift from images drawn from his community are Two Geishas/Sushi (Image 6) and Utamaro Lounge (Image 7), where Lozano’s pantheon are placed in front of a massive backdrop of two geishas in an iconic Japanese landscape. The superimposition and juxtaposition of these two distinct styles and the unexpected combination of aesthetics, bridges representations of the ‘other’ — creating a pictorial chasm that is anything but jejune. The geisha scenes in Utamaro Lounge (Image 7) are smooth and rendered in classic Japanese woodblock print style, while along the bottom his subjects are rendered in a caricature style with those quick rapid fire strokes and oddly cropped poses, and yet they all similarly capture the gaze of the viewer.

Certainly Lozano’s trickster mentality (he calls himself, “el travieso” ) and his mischievous play with imagery topples our notion of ‘relatedness’ by placing together non-sequitur visual propositions in settings like lounge bars in the city of Angels.

Furthermore, like in Junot Diaz’s narratives, Lozano’s subjects depart from the all too pervasive trope in art and literature of the all-suffering immigrant. Expressed with a lyrical texture and complex layering of forlorn diasporic love and life, in both instances their subjects are based on what they know best and through their art convey their respective communities: bi-national, hard working people who are infused with sensuality, desire, contradiction and dimensionality.

José Lozano’s long artistic career consists of a varied artistic practice that also includes: artist books; paper dolls of famous people like Frida Kahlo and others of men and women sporting lucha libre masks (Images 1, 2, 3, 4, 5); and a recent public work commission for the L.A. Metro Expo Line (Image 16). This public work commission is of eight art panels of Lotería cards, the popular Mexican game of chance that uses iconically decorated playing cards, but reinterpreted through Lozano’s signature style and individualized for this project.

Lozano’s art has lasting enigmatic resonance, resulting in an aesthetic that is pure Lozano. We look forward to what this maestro of visual mischief, reconfiguration and humor thinks of next.

—Dianna Marisol Santillano

[1] From art talk at Fremont Gallery in South Pasadena, CA on March 1, 2014

[2] Lozano quote, Sept. 10, 2014

Dianna Marisol Santillano is an adjunct professor at California State University, Los Angeles View Professor Santillano’s CV»
José Lozano’s website:

Text © Dianna Marisol Santillano, all rights reserved.
Artwork © José Lozano, all rights reserved
Interview with José Lozano courtesy of Atelier Visit

Interview by Abel Alejandre with José Lozano

2 thoughts on “The Enchanting World of a Chicano Trickster: The Whimsy in José Lozano’s Pictures

  1. Jose, I love to hear you speak! Always love your humor and “slice of life” observations-including your version of “Housewives from Orange County” doing their MFA. I learned alot-nicely done, Abel. Thank you.

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