A New Show of Contemporary Airbrush in L.A. Brings a Muralist Into the Gallery Fold
The artist's paintings that celebrate Chicano culture are "a love letter to Los Angeles."
Beyond the Streets, the wildly popular Los Angeles initiative with a focus on graffiti and street art, founded several years ago by Roger Gastman, has just unveiled the latest group show at its physical gallery space on North La Brea Avenue. Curated by Mister Cartoon (aka Mark Machado), “Under Pressure” examines contemporary airbrush artwork.
One of the most buzzed about artists in the show, whose work has already sold out, is a relative newcomer to the gallery scene. That’s because Gustavo Zermeño Jr., who was born and raised in nearby Venice had been heavily focused on murals before his work caught Gastman’s eye and he encouraged him to start working with canvas too.
“I’ve been focusing on murals for the past six years. To be honest, it’s difficult for muralists to navigate the art world,” Zermeño told Artnet. “They’re massive and tend to go ‘viral’ more easily. I was on my own,” he said. But between the public visibility and his social media presence, his work caught the eye of bigger and bigger companies that led to collaborations with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Rams, UCLA, and Nike.
While Zermeño welcomed the attention, he also wanted to keep the focus on the art itself. Working on murals has taken him to previously unknown pockets of L.A. that the artist says he thought he already knew so well. “Each mural takes about a week or two, so I get to eat at the restaurants, hang out with the owners, talk to the same lady who walks her dog and stops by every day. That became one of my favorite things…just to interact with the community.”
Now Zermeño has brought that same spirit to his canvases with detailed L.A. street scenes in a beautifully rendered palette, depicting everything from the sidewalks outside Dodger Stadium to oceanfront streets and the distinctive lights and architecture of the sidewalks around Venice Beach.
The spotlight and broader institutional support reflects the rising interest and appreciation for Chicano art in general. Actor Cheech Marin, an avid collector and supporter, was a driving force behind the Riverside Art Museum which opened last year.
“I first came across Gustavo’s work in 2020 and was drawn to the creativity in his portrayal of sports icons and athletes,” said Gastman. “I asked him to be part of our Southampton (U.S.) show the following year and I was blown away with the detail of the work he created. Thrilled about the paintings he was making in the studio, I was further excited by the murals he was creating and known for across L.A.”
Gastman said he wanted to have Zermeño in “Under Pressure” as he was developing a full body of work that cohesively told a story about himself, but also a story that many Angelenos resonate with. “I admire the pride he has for this city, its sports teams, its people and the Chicano culture found throughout many of the neighborhoods he’s represented in his paintings. This is only a taste of what he has to come.” Zermeño will have his first solo show at the gallery in 2024. It will be a continuation of what “he has started in his love letter to Los Angeles,” said Gastman.
Zermeño’s work also caught the eye of tequila-maker Avión, which resulted in a collaboration for the show, following a trip to Jalisco, Mexico, where both of his parents are from and where they still keep a home. Touring the distillery, which is not far from his family’s home, gave him an appreciation for the “slow pace” of creation, he said, with agave slow-roasted over three days. “A parallel to how I create my own art, with a vision, by hand, and over time,” he added.
The resulting collaboration is an original artwork—part of the larger body in the show—that depicts an oceanfront street scene at sunset lined with vintage lowrider cars and a storefront with a sign that emits a subtle glow and reads “Avión Tequila.”
“I wanted to make sure I did it just right,” said Zermeño of the final artwork and nod to the brand. As for his love of vintage cars? “I love this idea of tradition and community. I think the lowrider community is one of the most traditional and community-based, very family-oriented. That’s why I put them in there.”
The original work and Zermeño’s other paintings in the show have all found buyers already. However, the gallery just revealed it will sell limited-edition prints of the Avión work online, for $200 each.
“Under Pressure” continues at Control Gallery until December 23.
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