RODS, RAGS & RATFINKS!
"Kustom Kulture: Von Dutch, Ed 'Big Daddy' Roth, Robert Williams and Others" opened at the Laguna Art Museum in July 1993. The show proved to be pivotal to the movement, illustrating Southern California custom-car culture's influential reach throughout the 1940s and beyond.
Do-it-yourself is a ubiquitous philosophy in the proto-punk world. From art to automobiles as art, lowbrow art—while once seen as counterculture, defiant, anti-museum and underground—has saturated our everyday. "Kustom Kulture" served well beyond its purpose, not only helping to label and spur the movement as a whole, but also acting as impetus to future DIY generations and artists.
Now, 20 years later, curators (and artists with their own DIY ethic) C.R. Stecyk III and Paul Frank, along with lead organizer Greg Escalante, present "Kustom Kulture II," which will grace the Huntington Beach Art Center
starting this Saturday. And the purpose is the same as the original: document, display, inspire.
"Good to see you, my friend," Escalante says, reaching out to Frank, who had just arrived. The lanky Stecyk is also there, and the three men stand in a checkerboard-floored garage attached to a wire warehouse somewhere in Santa Ana. Curios, collectibles and rarities—hula girls and Rat Fink figures, plus Ed Roth surf helmets—occupy every available surface of the room. It's a shrine to the automobile, serving as a protective hull for everything from a red Porsche 356 A Speedster cabriolet to multiple hot rods to the collection's crown jewel: the Surfite, a tiny, sunshine-yellow buggy carrying a matching surfboard. It was built from scratch in 1964 by artist/pinstriper/custom-car designer Roth, but looks as though it could stand in as a prototype beach mobile even today—and it'll be the centerpiece of "Kustom Kulture II."
"When I look back at that first show, I couldn't believe how good it was," explains Escalante. "And no one could ever do a show that high of quality again due to the fact that prices of the art are so much higher now. . . . The idea of this show wasn't to do a nostalgic trip down memory lane. It is a tribute to the 20-year anniversary, but it's also an update and expansion."
"Kustom Kulture II," Escalante explains, will feature important, overlooked artists such as Basil Wolverton, George Barris, Don Ed Hardy, Hudson Marquez (creator of Cadillac Ranch), Phil Garner and Margaret Keane. "To sum it up," Escalante continues, "this show fills in some gaps, expands the range of examination and illustrates how far the movement has come."