The artists behind Adrift on a memory Takes us back to the Lowrider days of the twentieth century, but those days are not quite gone.
Lowkey Calderon says he can’t describe the feeling.
“It’s like a tingling sensation – almost like a shiver,” he says.
The tattooist and pinstripe artist lights up his shiny, turquoise 1976 Monte Carlo, which he named Disco Lady, and slowly descends to the music of the 70s – the golden age of lowriding. From funk to classic rock of the disco era, Calderon wants his ride to stay true to its true identity.
He throws up words like ‘cold’, ‘free’ and ‘amazing’, but that still can’t compare to what riding in one really looks like. Lowriders, vintage, colorful and custom lower-body vehicles, are like moving works of art and a form of self-expression – the best thing about lowriding according to Calderon.
“I love seeing people’s reactions,” he says, recalling the times he has traveled the area. “I’ve seen people from all walks of life get up and bend their knees to greet me, talk to me and tell me how much they love the ride and it feels good. It makes a lot of people smile.
Now, a preview of that experience – a nod to what Lowriding really stands for – is on display at the Dallas Museum of Art. A 153-foot wall installation that resembles a lowrider with its stripes and vibrant colors covers the lobby of the DMA. This monumental-scale merry-go-round mural is the work of artist and educator Guadalupe Rosales, based in Calderon and Los Angeles. The two met via Instagram, bonded over their similar livelihoods, and started the collaboration Rosales had originally thought of.
A disco ball sparkles on the Concord’s hand-painted, sunset-colored scaled walls and a neon green strip of light shines with it. Above you can see your reflection on what is supposed to be a large rearview mirror. It’s good for selfies. Rosales created two light boxes containing memorabilia such as photographs, Teen Angel art and the iconic Buddies figurines. His idea was to pay homage to the culture that still persists in Hispanic communities such as his hometown of East LA and even Dallas.
“The job I’ve done in the past is to reframe the stories,” Rosales said. “I’m mostly interested in the celebration. ”
Since 2015, Rosales has documented Latinx experiences with her extensive archive collection on the underground Latin subcultures in Los Angeles of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. His project “Veteranas and Rucas” on Instagram documents photos of kickbacks from kickbacks, mall photoshoots, Sadie Hawkins dances, high school outings and girl groups that people have been submitting since their teenage years. Her current project has been turned into a book “Map Pointz: A Collective Memory”, which includes newspaper clippings, scrapbook and album pages, and an essay.
Lowriding deserved its own praise.
These moving works of art aren’t just cute cars to look at. They are part of Chicano history and represent the Mexican-American identity, which dates back to post-war urban LA. During the Chicano movement in the 1970s, lowriders looked more like a formalized political function. Automobile clubs helped raise funds for the United Farm Workers union, provided community services and organized health initiatives. Lowriders continue to make appearances in southern Latinx communities.
Calderon is no stranger to this, in fact his life has revolved around lowriding and the art itself. In one of the light boxes is a photo of Calderon’s siblings Oscar, who also did the velvet padding inside the planter, and 1992 Hilda sitting on her brother’s Impala ’64 in front of their childhood home near Maple Lawn. The Brothers are known as the go-to guys for striped work in Dallas and have been like that for years.
“I pretty much grew up with the idea that my older brother liked lowriding,” says Calderon, who is 13 years younger than his brother. “I got to witness his early days in lowriding and learn from him as he learned it.”
Inspired by his brother’s art and looking at his drawing, Calderon himself followed the art. During his college years he helped out with his brother’s shop and was immersed in the lowrider environment. Although he is proud of his culture, lowriding for him was more about art than anything else.
Even though Dallas is not East LA, the Chicano community and love of lowriding are just as close. Dallas lowriders, a club that started in 1979, still exists today even after the murder of leader Ivy Matas in 1985. His brother Mark Matas reunited the club in 2003, the year his daughter Mercedes was born, and has has been a spokesperson ever since and has held community events that make everyone feel like family.
Now at 18, Mercedes, also known as the Lowrider Girl, follows her in her family’s footsteps.
“I was born in this club,” she says. “It’s not a hobby for us, it’s a way of life.”
Three years ago, she saw her father build a brown 1949 Chevy truck and a 1965 purple Super Sport convertible Impala from scratch and was stunned. Since then, she also devotes her time to cars. Soon, she’ll sport her very own fully sparkling 1984 Chevrolet Monte Carlo – one that resembles her outgoing, boisterous personality.
She may agree with Calderon. Going down in a lowrider is liberating.
“You just have to drive in your car, flip switches, your left arm hanging out the window, your right hand on the steering wheel and your hair blowing in the wind,” she says. “I feel like a bird that has just learned to fly.”
Still, that’s still not the best part.
“The best part is knowing that I put everything in my car,” she says.
Drifting on a Memory will be presented until July 10. The DMA will host a lowrider event on March 12 with a car viewing a conference with Rosales and Calderon.
Cover photo courtesy of the Dallas Museum of Art on Instagram.