“Back then, you would go to an exhibit and there would be an art show with a bunch of frames with a completely white canvas, and that was some Conceptual minimal art,” he recalled in an online radio interview.
The Thrasher cover, painted by the well-known underground cartoonist Robert Williams, introduced Mr. Escalante to the vibrant world of out-of-the-mainstream art, filled with raw energy and bold images that reflected California car culture, surfing, tattooing, graffiti, cartooning and more.
“It was the craziest painting I’d ever seen,” he said. “It just looked like if Salvador Dalí had grown up in Southern California, that’s what he’d be painting.”
He added, “I didn’t know they could make art this cool.”
Mr. Escalante became friends with Mr. Williams and others who drew, painted and decorated hot rods in the style. A 1982 book by Mr. Williams, “The Lowbrow Art of Robert Williams,” would give the genre its most common name; Pop Surrealism is another.
Mr. Escalante believed that these works should have been in galleries and museums and on the radar of collectors. In 1992, he and Doug Nason founded the Copro Nason Gallery in Culver City, Calif. (since renamed CoproGallery and relocated to Santa Monica). In 2015, he opened Gregorio Escalante Gallery in the Chinatown section of Los Angeles.
The galleries embraced a broad definition of art, and so did Juxtapoz, the magazine that he and several others helped Mr. Williams start in 1994. The magazine, Mr. Escalante once said, emphasized accessible writing, in contrast to Artforum, “where it’s like some Ph.D. in art history is writing it with all these footnotes and is trying to show you how smart they are but could care less about how it would be to read it.”
Gregory Conrad Escalante was born in Los Angeles on April 17, 1955. His father, Conrad, designed and made electric signs. His mother, Jacqueline, was a homemaker.
He was interested in ceramics even in high school and once had a job at a place called the Pottery Shed in Laguna Beach. People would stop and take pictures of him as he threw pots on the wheel, which left his younger brother Joe awe-struck.