Glugio Nicandro, the artist known as Gronk, was born to Mexican-American parents in East Los Angeles, California in 1954. He is a prolific painter, muralist, performance artist, theatrical set designer, art collective co-founder and art activist.
Gronk was raised by his mother, a librarian and activist, who encouraged him to read and to become an activist himself. He said that Gronk is a name his mother found in an article in National Geographic about a Brazilian tribe while resting shortly before his birth.
Gronk was inspired by an uncle who was always drawing and by television shows and foreign films. One of his early memories was his mother bringing a boomerang shaped coffee table into the house. He thought of the table as his spaceship, and would sit on it to watch sci-fi movies on TV. He credits his ceramic teacher at Stevenson Junior High School in East LA for encouraging him to create works that inspired him, and were fun, and to not let other peoples’ criticism affect his work.
At the age of fourteen, Gronk began writing plays. He put together a performance of one of his plays while in high school, which led him to meet other young, creative people. The group eventually became ASCO (Spanish for ‘disgust’), a Chicano artist collective that was active from 1972 to 1987. The group focused on solving social, economic and political problems in the community. The Vietnam War had a severe impact on East LA. “A lot of our friends were coming back in body bags and were dying,” Gronk said, “and we were seeing a whole generation come back that weren't alive anymore. And in a sense that gave us nausea ... that is Asco, in a way.” Gronk was drafted, but after two weeks of boot camp at Fort Ord the army decided that he just didn’t fit in and he was sent home.
In 1973, Gronk and ASCO founder, Willie Herrón IIl, painted a mural at the Estrada Courts housing project in East LA, to commemorate The Chicano Moratorium. The Moratorium took place of August 29, 1970. Members of the community marched to Laguna Park to protest the Vietnam War. The L.A. County Sherriff’s department reacted to a report that a liquor store had been robbed and tried to stop the protest. Tear gas was deployed, shots were fired and three people died in the melee. The Moratorium was the catalyst for the Chicano community to engage in social activism through art, music and performance, in ways that it had never done before.
In 1983, Gronk was awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, which allowed him more time for his own painting, rather than the performance art he had been working on with ASCO. He often paints a recurring image of a woman, facing away from the viewer, that he calls ‘The Tormentor’.
Gronk has created stage sets for the Los Angeles Opera and the Santa Fe Opera. He was given a residency at the University of New Mexico in 2003, was Artist-in-Residence at Fullerton College. His work was part of an ASCO retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and can be found at The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture & Industry, the Smithsonian and other major venues.
Gronk doesn’t drive, and can often be seen walking around his neighborhood in Downtown LA. He often opens his studio to art students.
Carolina Miranda. A ‘Catalytic Moment’ for Art and Culture’. Los Angeles Times. August 23, 2020.
Jeffrey Rangel. Archives of American Art/Interview. Smithsonian. January 20-23, 1997.