Thursday, September 20, 2018

El Segundian Hot Rod Sub-culture

by VeroniqueChevalier (writer), West Hollywood, September 20, 2007


Los Angeles' Glen Anderson 105 Freeway (AKA as the updated stretch of Imperial Highway between the 405 Freeway and State Highway 1), is an impressive example the traffic civil engineer's craft, with an array of majestic overpasses and sleek tunnels, each designed to work in concert, to efficiently relieve congestion to neighboring LAX. It serves as a working monument to late 20th century transportation technology.

As I exited from that sleek thoroughfare, and turned onto Main Street, El Segundo, I was a bit disoriented to find myself transported back to Small Town USA. In a scene that could have been out of The Twilight Zone, I found myself strolling past Mom and Pop-type retail establishments and eateries, circa 1957, towards the Gasoline Gallery, for the opening reception of their recent exhibition "Weld This".

The half block closest to the Gallery was a hotbed of hot rods and custom motorcycles that would have done Rat Fink proud. And alongside the festive chrome and flame kissed rides were their proud owners, sporting looks that included everything from Brylcreemed Pompadours with cigarette-pack rolled shirt sleeves, to full facial piercings with flame red Mohawks, for the gents.

Their women folk were decked out in complementary fashions, with poodle skirts and pin curls at the retro end of the spectrum, to nose rings and dreads on the post modern side. One commonality shared by most in attendance, both men and women, was the profusion of tattoos. In fact, some of the inked ladies put to shame more than a few of the fellows, with the quantity, as well as the quality of their proudly displayed body art.

The Gallery itself is a combination art exhibition space, as well as a purveyor of automotive, tiki and retro-themed merchandise. One will find items ranging from glossy coffee table books, and magazines devoted to rod culture, to ceramic Zombie Knobs gear shifters, to Pin up Girl hair ornaments comprised of tasteful combinations of silk flowers and skull beads, to my favorite, a metal lunchbox by artist Shag.

On one side, emblazoned with "My First Cocktail" in bold lettering, is depicted a gleaming and well-stocked Tiki bar. The reverse side reveals two green-tinged children with nauseated expressions, sloppily arrayed amidst a multitude of empty, overturned glasses, I wanted to get one as a, ahem, "gag" gift for a friend's baby shower, but decided against it when I discovered there wasn't a mini martini shaker baby bottle to go with it.

The invitational exhibition in the gallery at the back of the shop was, as the name "Weld This" implies, on the theme of welding. Entries ranged from photographs of buxom young women in 1950's attire wielding arc welders, to actual welded metal sculptures.

The piece that surely qualified as the most true-to-theme in the place, was entitled "Rodder" by a sculptor known as Stone. It is basically a giant painted metal, long-necked, bloodshot eyeball on wheels. A modified propane camp stove was seamlessly and unobtrusively incorporated into the sculpture's base, and as gallery owner Mark Waldman dimmed the lights, the artist gave the crowd a dramatic demonstration of his creation's flame-shooting capabilities. Whoever becomes the proud owner of this portable inferno will definitely have the distinction of possessing the fanciest barbeque starter on his block!

Another notably fierce entry in the gallery was by internationally renowned celebrity photographer Justice Howard, who is as much a character as the subjects she captures on film. She made her appearance at the reception with her significant other, Neil Turbin, the founding vocalist of the heavy metal band Anthrax, every bit the rock star with his long dark mane, topped by a beat up cowboy hat and wrap-around black shades. When Ms. Howard is not working with, (or dating), the famous and the beautiful, she doggedly pursues the documentation of the darker range of human experience.

Her image, entitled "God's Gift," is a larger-than-life-sized close up of a pair of man's hands, with fingers interlaced, as if in prayer. The knuckles are tattooed with individual letters to form the words of the image's title. Upon closer inspection, it is obvious that the tattoos are homemade (possibly in prison?), and lacking in uniformity or consistency, leading one to conclude that the bearer of the ironic verbiage has obviously not been all that blessed by the Heavenly Father,

Further adding to the sinister quality of tableau is the fact that the photograph was left unframed, and had been affixed to the wall of the gallery solely by the point of a primitive, hand wrought dagger. It certainly isn't much of a stretch to imagine those inked fingers wrapped around that selfsame handle in real life, and it is rather doubtful that the user would have unsheathed it for anything so noble as to hang art.

Another noteworthy image was a playful acrylic painting called "Weld-A-Hula" that can best be described as "Tiki Horror" by an artist with a decidedly lowlife bent, Johnny Crap. The central figure in the composition is the ubiquitous Rat Fink in a welder's mask, driving military convoy truck through a jungle, his huge bloodshot eyes and evil grin overshadowing everything around him.

As I exited from the exhibition, I stopped to chat with Taylor Waldman, the beautiful wife of the establishment's owner, and her assistant Deann Dupre. They made a lovely pair in their picturesque vintage attire, glamorous makeup, and perfectly re-constructed 1950's up-do's. The charming effect was completed by their demure manner as well.

Despite the fact that the premises were filled to capacity with noisy patrons, and more than a few customers were vying to have their purchases rung up, the two ladies remained gracious and unflappable throughout.

If the were numerous red dots next to the pieces in the gallery were any indication, Gasoline Gallery has assured its place as a go-to destination for those with a soft spot in their hearts for "Rod Kulture," and has put El Segundo back on the road map. Not a bad distinction for a town whose earlier claim to fame was as the home of a giant oil refinery.

About the Writer

VeroniqueChevalier is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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