Candy apple red in the most lustrous gloss, maybe acrid acid green suffused in pinpricks of metallic stars, each taken wing by slices of chrome, as luxurious leather or velvet tempt from within. While these are typical highlights prized by Lowriders and their fans, community is more than key. As Steve Velasquez of the Smithsonian Institute has observed, “The car aspect was 10%, the social aspect was 90%.” While I knew the Perez Brothers were master narrators of the culture, I didn’t expect to meet artists so modest and unpretentious, who truly make art for the sheer love of the culture and joy in the process. It’s no surprise that Andrew Hosner of Thinkspace Projects recognized their talent for painting stories of commonality and family. Speaking of which, Alejandro and Vicente answered some questions individually, but mostly, yes, as identical twins. And never mean.
Gwynned Vitello: I can’t help but start with the same question that most people who hear about you two probably have. Twins are a fascination, identical twins, even more so. But the fact you make art together is almost hard to believe. Growing up, was being twins something that seemed natural or crazy? Did you have siblings, and where did you fall in the mix?
The Perez Brothers: About half the people we meet ask about our art and half about being twins. Growing up, it was, for sure, a natural thing to us. We didn't think it was crazy or weird or anything like that. To us, we were just two brothers who were the same age and looked the same. But the funny thing is that whenever we would see another pair of twins together, we would get blown away and think how wild it was—we still do! And yeah, we are the oldest of five, with a younger sister and two younger brothers.
Describe where you grew up, what the neighborhood was like, and how you spent your time. And since I can’t let go of the twin thing, did you do those things together?
We were born at St. Francis Hospital in Lynwood. We soon moved to South Gate after our parents got a divorce. That’s where we were raised all the way through high school. Being twins, we were always very close and had the same interests and the same group of friends. In our early years, we used to hang out with friends from school who lived on the same block. We would always be outside doing whatever, like playing baseball, riding our bikes, and even roller skating. As we got older, we became a bit more introverted and spent most of our time indoors watching wrestling and movies.
My husband always had a bunch of cars he was working on. What was your first experience with them? Through your dad or uncle, fixing or restoring them?
I break them more than I work on them! Our first memory was our dad’s dark green 1968 Chevy Impala that he had when we were around four or five years old. That was his first lowrider as far as we can remember. We like cars, in general—even the Hondas.
Do you remember your first time really experiencing a group celebration of cars—family holiday, wedding, quinceanera, or even a funeral? What stood out to you?
Alejandro Perez: I can’t really remember my first time experiencing that, but for sure it must have been at a lowrider car show event with my dad when I was around four or five years old. At the time, my dad was in the Super Naturals Car Club and my brother and I would go with him to car shows. What stood out to me were all the bright colors, shiny chrome, wire wheels, crazy custom interior, and crazy paint jobs with the airbrushed murals. And, of course, the cars with the hydraulics, I loved watching the hopping contests.
Vicente Perez: Yeah, I can’t remember the first time exactly, but for sure it was a car show with our dad. Of course, the first things I noticed were the wire wheels and hydraulics. But the main thing that I've always loved was the murals. Usually, a car would have a sick-ass mural on the trunk of the car. Most of them are monochrome and the images would go along with the theme of the car, Lowriders always have a theme. The music is on, and there’s the food too, so it just becomes a vibe.
What were most of the cars at that time? Was there a certain style or make? I’m thinking Chevy. How did they develop, like, were there always candy paint jobs and custom upholstery? How has that changed?
Growing up, at the car shows we would mostly see ’60s Impalas, Bombs, and ’80s G-Bodys. The styles haven't really changed much, as far as we can tell. There have always been different levels as to how far or how crazy you want to customize your car. But there’s been some new things, like engraving patterns into the chrome, or LED headlights, also LEDs in the undercarriage and engine bay. There’s always new innovations that lowrider owners keep coming up with, especially for the crazy show cars.
What was high school like? Was there a car scene? Were you at all into art by that time?
AP: High School was alright. I didn't really do anything crazy, just hung out with friends during lunch, hung out with my bro after school, and watched television. There wasn't really a car scene at the high school. At the time, I wasn’t really into art, mainly because I didn’t know much about it. All I knew was that I liked to draw a lot. At the time, I only really knew about Pop Art, so I was really into Andy Warhol and Roy Liechtenstein. I started painting in high school, but it wasn’t until AP Art class in my senior year that I began to take it more seriously.
VP: I don’t remember there being a car scene, but maybe that's because we didn't have a car back then. All through and after school, I would always be drawing in my notebooks. I didn't really like school, really, only the art classes. I don't remember at what age, but we found an art magazine that I really liked, Lowrider Arte. It was filled with Chicano art, and you could submit your drawings. I never did, but I always wanted to. The Lowrider murals and the magazine definitely influenced me to make the work that I make today.
Who were your idols at the time? Any entertainers or athletes—or artists?
AP: My idol was and is Kid Cudi. I just love what he’s about. His music really speaks to me and makes me feel understood. I also love that he makes music about himself and his personal feelings. Which is what inspired me to paint something that is real and personal to me.
VP: Back then I’d say Eddie Guerrero was my idol. At the time there weren't many Latino wrestlers. He always drove a lowrider to the ring, and I always thought that was sick. He definitely inspired me to bring the Lowrider culture into the art world, the same way that he brought it to the wrestling world.
Coming from what I’m guessing was a traditional upbringing, what did your family think of you going to art school?
When we told our family that we decided to go to art school, the only one that really supported us and didn't question it was our mom. Everybody else was concerned and questioning what we wanted to do.
What made you choose Otis College of Art, and did you have a mutual goal of making art full-time? You both studied Fine Art painting, right?
Our AP art teacher, Ms. Tinajero was the one who introduced us to Otis. At the time, we weren't thinking about going to college. Actually, for a brief moment, we thought about going to Wyotech because we were really into cars. But ultimately we knew we wanted to do something with art. So our teacher convinced us to apply to Otis. She saw we had a skill and interest, so we thought, “All right, let’s just go and see what happens. We didn’t even go and check it out, we just applied. We didn’t even think that we’d get in because we felt our portfolio was weak, but we both got accepted. We were actually not going to attend because it was ridiculously expensive, but we found out that with financial aid, we were both going to get a full ride. So that was pretty much the deciding factor of us going there. We went in not knowing what our major would major be, but we eventually both decided to major in Fine Art together.
Your first pieces have collage, abstract, and sign art elements. How did you make the transition?
In the beginning, we felt our work was mostly influenced by Otis. We were making work that we felt our professors wanted us to make. It was mainly abstract. At the same time, we were working on our own paintings outside of school. They were more personal about what we were doing at the time. We started transitioning into more realistic and figurative paintings.
What other classes did you take that influenced your styles?
We took a painting class in a different department, which was taught by Nathan Ota. At the time, we would just paint in black and grey, so we wanted to learn how to paint with color. We were particularly interested in painting skin tones. That class really helped us and influenced us to do more figurative paintings, rather than abstract. Lots of time and practice, practice, for sure.
What was your first show at school, what was the content? Did they let you exhibit together?
Our first show was a group show in our junior year. Before that, we were already working as a team, so they let us exhibit together. We did a still life painting in which we both painted on our own wood panels, then put them together to make one single image.
What was it like once you graduated? Did you work from home or from a studio? Did you have a mentor or look for representation?
Some of the first paintings were sneakers, and it seemed like for a year, that was our thing. It seemed like it was easy because there were no skin tones or faces. It wasn’t until after Otis when one of our uncle’s friends commissioned us to do a painting of his Mustang, that we got the idea to do more car paintings. We began to take commissions from friends and family, and friends of friends. We worked from home for about a year, then we got lucky and were able to get a little converted garage studio space that we shared with our best homie. We then began working on a body of work in order to have something to show galleries. We didn't seek representation, we just wanted a gallery to show our work in an exhibition.
At that point, you must have developed a style of working together. Can you describe how you go about doing it and has it changed?
It has changed over the years. In the beginning, we would each pretty much focus on the left or right side of a painting. But over time, we realized we were each better at painting certain things. So now we both just paint those specific things. Right now we get up around 2:30 in the morning, go to our day job, then come home and paint from around one or two until 6:00 pm.
When do you go to sleep?!
Late, like 11:00 pm. We just need four hours, tops; we’ve been doing this since, like, 2016. It’s just our love, I guess, it’s a passion that gets us going. We talk about it all the time at work, at the house, on the phone, texting, all the time, always about the next piece.
What are the certain things each of you likes to draw or paint, like, does one of you like drawing faces or car bodies or women? And what do you find hardest to draw?
AP: I enjoy painting the clothes and all the chrome of the cars. But even though I enjoy that, I also find it hard. I always get anxious before starting a painting because I feel like I forget how to paint. So pretty much every time I paint, I use a different technique.
VP: I feel the same way. I’m always scared when we start a new painting. I don’t have a formula, I kinda just paint as I go. But I’d say that my favorite thing to paint is the reflections on the cars.
Do you rely on photography or sketches or both? What exactly is the process and how long does it take you? Do you like to do a little bit and step back? Work on several at once?
We go to car shows or cruise at night and photograph whatever catches our eye. We then go to the studio and look through our photos and pick out the ones that resonate with us. After that, we erase the background in Photoshop. Then we project the image onto the canvas and start painting it from there. We work on two paintings at a time, with each of us working on one individually; then we trade off once we’re done with our part of the painting, and it always looks like one piece. This process takes us about two months for big pieces, smaller ones usually take a week or two. It all depends.
Do you ever go to a car show or party with a certain theme in mind, or do different ideas come up as you’re walking around and observing the whole scene?
When we go to car shows, we don’t really have an intention of doing a lot of paintings. We just try to get as many photos as we can, so we can have a lot to choose from. We take our own photos because it feels weird if we don’t paint from our own, like it’s cheating. It’s best around 11 or 12 because of the shadows and it’s not too bright. Or nighttime when we’re cruising or they have shows. When we go through the photos, different themes and inspirations come to mind. It could be the composition or the colors or a certain car.
Speaking of inspiration, are there any actors, movies, musicians, or songs that have resulted in a painting or series?
Yes, most of our paintings are inspired by song lyrics. Actually, we had a whole solo show that was inspired by a song. The show that we had with Thinkspace at The Brand Library in 2020, More Bounce, was inspired by “More Bounce to the Ounce” by Zapp and Roger. Every painting in the show featured lowrider hoppers.
I know Lowrider Culture is big in Japan and Brazil. Besides LA and the Southwest, where else is it popular, and do you notice any differences? Have you been to car shows outside of the US?
Yes, it’s becoming very popular all over the world. It’s pretty crazy. We notice that in Japan, the Lowriders take more inspiration from the ’90s and the customizations are crazier. We actually haven’t been to any car shows outside of the U.S. We haven’t even been on a plane before or left the country. I guess, we’re always busy… and also kind of scared to fly places in planes.
But do you have a dream destination/vacation?
AP: I would really like to go to Paris, France, so I can visit Jim Morrison’s grave.
VP: I’m not really into traveling, but Japan might be pretty cool. I’d like to check out the Lowrider scene over there. Also, New York, to check out the museums and galleries.
Is there a message that you feel you’re sending with your art, or is it as simple as celebrating identity and culture (though that’s not exactly simple!)
Yes, we are celebrating identity and culture through our paintings. Car clubs are always doing charity-based shows, and they attract all kinds of people. But also we hope our paintings inspire people. The cars are just there, but the main thing is the people there, their expressions, the interactions, the things they’re doing, and the vibe. It’s the people, they’re having a good time, being relaxed, and doing happy things.
What’s interesting is that you say you’re introverted, but you take such joy in the atmosphere of the shows and the people who attend. You have such a good outlook.
Yeah and no, it’s weird how we have that vibe because we’re always anxious, always overthinking everything—a lot. I guess we like the pressure of a deadline. It’s due in an hour. Well, it’s done, and after that, it’s like.’Whoa! I did this?!” So, we’re anxious, but, yeah, we are happy people. We just want to push boundaries and continue the love of the culture.
The Perez Brothers will be showing in the Thinkspace Projects curated exhibit LAX / NDSM at the STRAAT Museum in Amsterdam through July 30, 2023.