Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Essay 4861

From The Los Angeles Times…


‘Homies’ are where his art is
The barrio figurines left their creator rich but unfulfilled. Then he cast his brother as a model of mutual redemption.

By Hector Becerra, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

HERCULES, CALIF. — Ten years ago, David Gonzales created a hit with “The Homies,” 2-inch plastic figurines depicting characters from the barrio, complete with bandannas and baggy pants. Inspired by the homeboys he grew up with, they were sold, quarter by quarter, in gum ball machines in mostly Latino neighborhoods.

Gonzales was lambasted by police and prosecutors, who said the impish images exploited gang life for profit. Naturally, they then sold better than ever: more than 120 million to date.

The 47-year-old Gonzales, now a father of three children in college, lives in an elegant two-story Spanish-style house overlooking San Francisco Bay, just down the road from the flinty central Richmond neighborhood where he grew up.

“I call this house ‘the house that the Homies built,’” he said.

Gonzales has been featured in national magazines, including Rolling Stone, and rubbed shoulders with celebrities. His characters have adorned back-to-school folders, lunchboxes, breath mints and beach towels. The Pasadena Museum of California Art is hosting an exhibit on his Homies, and Nintendo will soon release a Homies video game.

Yet there has been a gnawing feeling of unfulfilled goals and unmet expectations. He wanted to hit the big time with an animated TV show -- something that would really leave his imprint. Oil paintings by Gonzales, often with religious themes, hang on the walls of his home -- a reminder that the artist created the toy maker, not the other way around.

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