Mister Cartoon, tattoo artist of the stars, at his first solo exhibition

He’s the star’s tattoo artist and has inked the flesh of Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Christina Aguilera, 50 Cent and so many others. He has exhibited work in museums and galleries – not to mention murals on public walls – in Paris, London, Tokyo, Bangkok and elsewhere in the world. He is known for his dynamic airbrush designs for the automotive industry. And his limited edition Nike Air Force 1 sneakers? They sell for more than $2,000.

But Mister Cartoon has yet to have a solo show in his hometown of LA — or anywhere else.

The San Pedro artist, who has been instrumental in the growing popularity of the Chicano art movement over the past 30 years, will debut Just My Imagination in Hollywood Beyond the streets and control gallery this Saturday. The exhibition includes 20 new paintings and graffiti works on paper, as well as an updated, hand-painted mini-sculpture of his signature cat character, Bronson, and one of his vintage art cars, The Gangster Squad. Beyond the Streets Publishing is also releasing a new book of 290 drawings spanning two decades tracing the evolution of Mister Cartoon’s designs.

On a recent tour of the exhibit while it was being set up, Mister Cartoon – aka Mark Machado, or “Cartoon” as he is often called – seemed brimming with what he says is “a long time coming” from the upcoming opening to be humble.

“It’s about meeting people’s expectations because I’ve been to so many exhibitions,” he says. “I want to show people through my art what kind of music I’m interested in, my passion and obsession with cars and automobiles, by taking tattoos from people, peeling them off and putting them on canvas and peeling off a mural from A [Chevrolet] Impala and put on a canvas. It’s a big moment, I don’t take it for granted.”

Mr. Cartoon's painting.

One of Mister Cartoon’s paintings, Clown Town, at Beyond the Streets and Control Gallery.

(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

Roger Gastman, who co-curated the Museum of Contemporary Art’s 2011 exhibition “Art in the Streets,” included cartoon in three of his editions Traveling exhibition “Beyond the Streets” about graffiti and street artists. The two had been talking about Cartoon doing a solo show for years.

The challenge was time. Cartoon’s popularity in the tattoo community and its commercial success as His work as a graphic designer and in the fashion industry had in some ways prevented him from making headway as a visual artist – he did not have time to step back and create the extensive body of work required for a solo exhibition.

“He was busy,” says Gastman. “He’s one of the most sought-after tattoo artists, in demand as a painter and designer for cars, for commercial work and everything else. It wasn’t easy for him to sit down and paint for six months. He has never made so many paintings [at once] Before. For this show it was: Let’s go. Let’s do the big show. Tell the stories that have always been in your head.”

The exhibition came about when Beyond the Streets opened a flagship in 2022 stationary space on La Brea Avenue along with the adjacent one control gallery to present contemporary art. Gastman sometimes uses the two channels for related programming, and Cartoon’s exhibition will fill both galleries – “It’s a total takeover,” says Gastman.

Mister Cartoon's designs are inspired by T-shirts he airbrushed at auto shows in the early'90s.

Mister Cartoon’s designs are inspired by T-shirts he airbrushed at auto shows in the early ’90s.

(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

The 54-year-old cartoon spent half a year creating art for the show in his home studio in the San Fernando Valley which he shares with two of his four children. Although the works are new, the exhibition has the feel of a survey exhibition due to its scope. It touches on Cartoon’s roots as a graffiti artist, his foray into sign painting, his passion for lowrider custom car culture and his years on the road in the early ’90s immersed in the hip hop scene with his creative partner, photographer and director Estevan Oriol. Not to mention his then turn to tattoo art, which fundamentally changed his career and strengthened his presence as an artist.

Stepping away from the hustle and bustle of commercial work and clients, he says: “I was able to paint for myself, my colleagues and my family. The freedom was something very special, a time for self-reflection: What do I want to say on my platform? Who am I as an artist? How can I fit 30 years into a few rooms and show my progression?”

The answer, says Cartoon, was an exhibition he describes as “a collage of my memories and fantasies.”

The show is particularly personal. At its core, it’s about relationships – between Cartoon and his family, friends and tattoo clients over the years, but also his relationship to music, cars and art, and more generally people’s relationships to work and death. Characters keep appearing in the paintings, amalgamations of characters from cartoons life. His tattoo designs appear on her body parts and appear all over the gallery. Vintage cars that he owned populate the screens.

The work of Mister Cartoon.

Featured at Beyond the Streets and Control Gallery, this painting by Mister Cartoon is about his teenage years.

(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

Cars saved Cartoon’s life, he says. Growing up in a working class family in the 70’s and 80’s, he recalls that his parents worked “all the time” at the print shop they owned. “I used to hang out with the homies on the street,” he says. “We started writing on walls and terrorizing a bit. I’ve seen friends get imprisoned or die because of street life and that definitely drew me into the world of cars. It was a way to keep your cool with the boys, but not gang activities.”

all the work in the show is made with automotive paint and using the technique of airbrush painting. Black and gray fine line style cartoon tattoos originated in western jails and on the streets of eastern LA in the 1970’s. Therefore, most of his paintings are on canvas are rendered in black, white and gray tones. But three paintings in the exhibition – inspired by cars – stand in sharp contrast. Brilliant, rich in color and framed by shimmering, delicate lines, they are painted on slanting pieces of hand-hammered aluminum that mimic the look of car hoods. The work is particularly labour-intensive, sanded several times, primed and varnished, then sealed. The curved metal and the high-gloss surface create reflections that give the works an almost three-dimensional quality.

Mister Cartoon's paintings.

These Mister Cartoon paintings on aluminum mimic the look of car bonnets.

(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

Clouds, a recurring theme in cartoons’ work for decades, play a major role. His cityscapes appear under a sky covered by stormy or pillow-like clouds. Other canvases, filled only to the brim with clouds, contain faces hidden in the corners and shadows – “Easter eggs”.

“When I first started traveling, I would look out the window of an airplane and just look up at the sky, and they just always seemed so innocent,” Cartoon says of clouds. “They look like paintings to me. I’ve been drawing them since I was a child. They have a free form and are always fluid and in motion. It’s that dream state.”

Cartoon’s fantasies in some paintings are just as vivid as his memories of real-life experiences — often more so, he says. A painting on aluminum shows “Mexican Marilyn Monroe – Mariposa – and El Vez,” he says. The characters, bathed in aqua and cobalt, step out of a ’57 Chevy Bel Air convertible. The image reflects Cartoon’s penchant for the “glamorous, noir” 1940s and 1950s.

“My father was growing up then,” he says. “I think I’ve spent a good part of my life dreaming of living in this era and buying all cars from the dealer. Take my time machine back to 1959: “Hey, how much is that used ’57 convertible?” $1,200 you say? OK, stop it. I’ll take three.’ This is the American Dream. In this case, the Mexican-American Dream.”

The work of Mister Cartoon.

“Under the Street Lamp” by Mister Cartoon.

(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

Cartoon listens to classic soul music from the ’60s and ’70s when he paints – hence the title of the exhibition, after a Temptations song – and music from these epochs can be heard in the background in the galleries.

There will also be a full-scale tattoo station installation filled with cartoon hand-painted signs, an ode to his history in the medium and still-active tattoo shop in santa monica

“This is where my canvas breathes and moves,” he says. “It could end up on a plane or in a coffin, or you could get married or go to Austria. The tattoos travel.”

Mr Cartoon.

Mister Cartoon with one of his custom lowrider cars.

(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

Cartoon leans against his 1939 Chevy Master Deluxe parked in the gallery. It’s brilliant midnight blue. It has a broad, proud nose “with the attitude of Al Capone”. he says, and there’s a mural of gangsters on either side and on the trunk.

“I’m a storyteller,” says Cartoon. “This show is the story of good times and bad, the yin and yang of life, the positives and negatives, the struggle and joy and the building of it all.”

He adds that in the ’80s and ’90s he witnessed the convergence of nascent hip-hop, tattoo culture, street art and street fashion, as well as the evolving lowrider car culture and growth Chicano art movement All of these are storylines in the show.

“I was told at the time to find your role. ‘How do you want to contribute to this cultural movement?’” he says. “I tried Breaking, I tried DJing and I decided I was better at drawing than dancing. So I better stick with it.”

“Just My Imagination” by Mister Cartoon

Where: Beyond the Streets and Control Gallery, 434 N La Brea Ave. L.A

If: June 10 – July 16, Wed.-Sun. 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. Free

The information: beyondthestreets.com

Emma Bowman

Emma Bowman is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Emma Bowman joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing emma@ustimespost.com.

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