Beyond the Streets

Chaz Bojórquez

West Coast

These vintage photographic images portray the early pioneering history of West Coast graffiti artist and godfather of “cholo”-style letters, Chaz Bojórquez. Chaz began writing graffiti in 1969 (under the street name CHINGASO), executing his first tag as well as the first historic Los Angeles street stencil ever used, that of “Señor Suerte” (Mr. Lucky) on the steps of the 110 freeway.

In 1968, out of high school with a liberal arts/mathematics diploma and one year of studies at California State University Los Angeles, Chaz enrolled in the Chouinard Art Institute (known today as CalArts). He also studied Asian calligraphy with Master Yun Chung Chiang (Master Chiang studied under Pu Ju, brother of the last Emperor of China). It was while attending art school that his friends changed his name to CHAZ, and as he studied art by day, he would tag the streets by night.

The iconic skull tag Señor Suerte was created in 1969 from composites of imagery represented during the times and social struggles of the civil rights movement. While going to Black Panther parties and under the influence of films like Shaft and Super Fly, Chaz began drawing Señor Suerte, giving him a pimp hat and fur-collared coat, a smiling skull face used in Day of the Dead festivals and representative of his heritage, and skull fingers twisted into a “Good Luck” symbol of faith. The adoption of the iconic skull by the local neighborhood of the Avenues became a gangster image of protection from death.

Los Angeles graffiti has its own unique visual presentation, serving as the foundation of Chaz’s own graffiti artwork and letter styles. L.A. gang wall writings are called placas (plaques — symbols of territorial street boundaries) and are pledges of allegiance to one’s neighborhood. The placa letterface has always been called “Old English” and is always written in uppercase capital letters. Cholo graffiti is graffiti by the neighborhood and for the neighborhood. This is a crucial difference between cholo and hip-hop-style graffiti: In cholo writing, usually one writer writes for the whole gang, and only writes within his/her own territory. In hip-hop graffiti, there is an individual focus, where “getting up” all-city or all-state with your tag is more important; the typeface of hip-hop also changes to a more personalized upper and lowercase free script.

Over his 50 years as a street artist and fine artist, Chaz has contributed significantly to the richness and complexity of Californian and American art. His artwork is included in many permanent and private art collections, including MOCA, LACMA and the Smithsonian Museums of American Art, History and Archives. Chaz currently exhibits throughout the world at galleries, museums and events. His legendary cachet claims him as one of the originators in the graffiti movement while he continues creating new work each day.