Gilbert “Magú” Lujan: An Extraordinary Life

He may not have been an actor or a screenwriter, a director or a producer, but the subhead up there says “celebration,” and that’s why my friend and mentor Magú did every day of his life: he celebrated, in his art, in his teaching, in his friendships. I will miss him more than I can say, and I am only one of thousands. The whole world will miss him, even if they never knew him.

I heard about Magú in my first days as an artist in L.A., as an eighteen-year-old freshman at CSULA. There were exhibits of his work as early as 1973, and I wish now I had seen every single one of them, but it was a few years more before I discovered him, and a few years more before we actually met. I remember going to his “mass meeting of Xicano artists, art lovers and educators,” Mental Menudo, back in 2005. It’s where I reconnected with him again. After our first five minutes of conversation, we were friends. That was the way he was–not just with me, with everyone. Always. It was a friendship that lasted a lifetime: I spoke with him last just a few weeks ago. It was an important conversation, and I will remember it always, and even though he was sick and weak, I never imagined it would be our last.

Magú wasn’t just part of the Latino art community in L.A., he was the Latino art community. He encompassed it. Embraced it. His work was shown at LACMA, at the Corcoran in Washington, in New York, in Houston, all across the country. It’s part of any and every major private collection in this country and beyond. The iconography he worked with came from ancient Mesoamerica and the streets of L.A. (did you ever see that Chevy he did?). The website dedicated to his work calls it, “seductive, often humorous, sometimes bawdy, always joyful,” and that’s true. And it barely begins to describe him. The film-portrait of him that will be premiering soon hints at the depth of his influence on the art world, and it is amazing and ridiculous and awe-inspiring that I find myself in the midst of truly great men and women. We all called Magú our friend and teacher. And we are the tiniest fraction who can claim that.

There will be–there already are–obituaries and tributes all over the media for Magú. We won’t repeat them here. You can hear him (or read a bit) in his own words at the Archive of American Art, you can see one of his best-known murals here or better yet you can go to the Hollywood and Vine metro station and really see it–it’s worth the trip. You can get an even better glimpse of him at http://magulandia.com/, and donate a few bucks to cover the medical expenses his family has to face, and to help pay to preserve and restore his work. It’s the least any of us can do.

We had wonderful talks. We laughed and laughed. These are huge mountains of memory I will always hold close to me, and though you hear this all the time, and it is so often a lie, this time–this one time–it is absolutely true: it has been an honor to call Gilbert “Magú” Lujan my friend.

Sometimes there is so much to say; you can’t say anything at all. There is just too much to feel.

So I will show you this instead. This is one of my favorite picture of Magú. It is the way I will always remember him.

Rest now, tu hermana.