Artists Gronk and Harry Gamboa Jr. created their first collaborative work in 1972 by starting at the top: They defaced the County Museum of Art.
"One night we spray-canned all the exits and entrances, signed it as a piece and returned to East L.A. under cover of a Volkswagen," said painter, performing artist Gronk, a.k.a. Glugio Gronk Nicandro. "No one knew we'd done it until four years later when we had an exhibition there and showed slides of the project."
Fourteen years later, the two are still together. Gronk, whose work recently has sprung from the streets of Los Angeles to some of its slickest galleries, will appear today at the Saxon-Lee Gallery in "Jetter's Jinx." The surreal, satirical play about Latino life styles was written by Gamboa. Gronk's hard-edged, frantic, colorful paintings and pastels are also on view at Saxon-Lee to June 14.
"Jetters were kids from East L.A. who were comparable to the mods from England during the late '60s," said Gronk, 30, who was born and reared in East Los Angeles. They were members of a Chicano youth movement who rebelled against social victimization by adopting "an extreme and flamboyant use of language and fashion" donning "peg-legged paints that exposed the top of their socks, pointy shoes, and oversized jackets.
"Gamboa and I were a products of that era, and a lot of the play deals with our coming to terms with our art and our careers and our lives--and the critical reaction to our work of the last 15 years."
That work has gone through an evolution, said Gronk (a word from Brazilian dialect meaning "to fly" which his mother found in a magazine).
Influenced as a child by television, film and literature ("from Daffy Duck to Camus to B-movies"), Gronk began painting and doing graffiti before he dropped out of high school around 1970. He started to perform immediately thereafter, on the street, for "anyone who passed by."
"I knew right away that I liked performance and I wanted to take the static medium and add that element to it. The solution was to make art that would go into the streets, and not be confined to a wall or a canvas." Gronk's productions have included "instant murals," in which someone he taped to a city wall would walk away from the wall; protest performances, one in which he and friends carried a cross along Whittier Boulevard; a Miss Gallery beauty pageant; and "No Movies," dramatic scenarios acted out without the use of celluloid.
"I even started staging 'No Movie' awards for 'No Actresses' and 'No Actors' in different places like Tiny Naylor's restaurant," he said.
Gronk continued to paint and perform all over the city often working collaboratively with Gamboa and other Latino artists in an anti-art establishment collective he co-founded called Asco (Spanish for nausea).
"But then my work became more elaborate and by the '80s, I began to perform in galleries, museums or clubs for sit-down audiences. 'Jetter's Jinx' is like that. It's more structured, it has an actual script and it must be presented in a gallery-type situation."
The gentrification, Gronk said, has caused critics and fans to speculate. Now settling into his second mainstream gallery show, will he forsake his origins in the grass-roots arts community for more secure and lucrative surroundings? Will he lose the hard-edged quality of his graffiti-mentality art, or drift from the avant-garde to the middle of the road?
"I've always thought of myself as on an edge and my work has always changed and it's still going through changes right now," Gronk said. "I think a lot of people are questioning the (new) price I may get for my work, but I've always made a living through my art. Also I've done shows all over the country without gallery representation. So I think this situation is just another part of me.
"I'm still excited by the stuff that isn't confined to a square format or the stuff that isn't bought. I'll still curate shows at alternative spaces like the Score Bar--and I still live downtown! So, I'll continue to work on the streets and produce work that is not sellable or right for somebody's living room."
It seems Gronk is a man of his word. The night before his Saxon-Lee opening, unbeknownst to gallery director Dan Saxon, he climbed to the roof of the gallery and painted over two billboards facing Beverly Boulevard. They were covered over the next day with ads for eggs.
"But I was able to keep my fans at ease," at least momentarily, said Gronk with a laugh. "Now, they won't say, 'Well, he's sold out.' "