$50,000.00 for a tattoo. A Skid Row Empire. A World Tour with Cypress Hill.
To get to the end of this story, you have to start at the beginning…a brand new Netflix documentary called (no, not Tiger King) LA Originals, chronicles the life of two wildly ambitious Chicano cultural visionaries.
The diverse and rich visual language of the Chicano movement has long held an enigmatic place in the cultural nucleus of America. Since its inception in the late 1960’s, the movement has helped endorse civil rights and empowered Mexican-Americans in LA and all over the US. While the Chicano lifestyle is known widely as a Mexican-American movement, their distinct culture has reached Cubans, Colombians, Costa Ricans, Hondureños, Dominicans – it has even made it all the way to Japan. But what’s even more amazing is how far reaching its impact on the art world has been.
Most notably, Chicano visual art mirrored and further expressed the rebellious and provocative themes found in literary works of its time. This group of artists and revolutionaries confronted both the reality of systemic injustice and hardship within their communities, and they delivered on the blatant need for valuable images of pride, purpose and identity. From large scale murals to small scale jail cell drawings, these confident new images were disseminated and beloved by people all around the world. Their movement left an indelible mark on the next generation of Chicano artists.
In the mid ’90s, Estevan Oriol and Mark Machado aka Mr.Cartoon picked up the torch that was left behind by their forefathers. Oriol, a videographer/photographer and Cartoon, a graffiti/tattoo artist, would work in tandem, creating music videos for Cypress Hill, eclectic stage designs, and impressive tattoos for Hollywood’s en Vogue. From Justin Timberlake to 50-cent, Cartoon’s list of clients stretched the gamut, ultimately amassing a cult-like following within pop culture’s mainstream. Alongside contemporary stalwarts like Cypress Hill and Rage Against the Machine, Oriol and Toon brought their authentic and unfiltered vision to the masses.
The documentary, directed by Oriol, flawlessly presents the duos meteoric rise in and out of the spotlight. The intimate footage allows a rare peek behind the curtain of Chicano history, the ’90s Hip-Hop scene in LA, and the distinct personalities of Oriol and Toons, aka the “Cholo Da Vincis.”
If you are a fan of the rare intersection of street culture and fine art, this one is a must. Flick it or Skip it? Flick it.
You can stream LA Originals right now on Netflix.
Photography: Estevan Oriol