John Carlos De Luna: Life Lessons of Boyle Heights Artist on Dressing Well and Staying True to Yourself

© Farah Sosa
If you’ve been to Eastside Luv Bar in Boyle Heights for Subsuelo, Ecléctica, or any of the nightly libations there, you will no doubt have been greeted by a dapper, finely dressed gentleman by the name of John Carlos de Luna. It wasn’t until I’d been coming to ESL for a while that I started to strike up conversations with John and realized there was a lot more to John than just being the door guy at one of my favorite joints.

Besides our mutual experiences of escaping the corporate rat race and our dislike for pretentious hipsters who find their way to East LA, there are many reasons why John thinks you should always look your best and other inspirational thoughts about his upbringing and pursuing his artistic endeavors to both sustain himself and his community in Boyle Heights. Watch the photo essay on him by Rafael Cardenas, another talented Eastside denizen you probably have seen at ESL, and enjoy my interview with John.

1. Did you grow up in Boyle Heights? What was it like for you growing up and what changes have you seen in the area?

Yes, I grew up in Boyle Heights, in the Estrada Courts Housing projects during the 1980s. Those were crazy, crazy times I tell you! But nonetheless the barrio truly inspired me. My neighborhood was filled with vibrant, colorful murals that told the stories of my history and the community. Living and growing up in this barrio made me the artist I am today. It truly offered great perspective as well as humbled me.

John's original art "The forgoten soldier, the warrior remembered" on sale now

2. Most of us know you as the impeccably dressed door man at Eastside Luv Bar and I recently found out through our conversations, you’re also a poet and artist. Tell us about your creative projects.

Yes, I love being at Eastside Luv. It’s a great opportunity to meet great people, artists, poets, musicians and it truly offers me the ability to focus on my creative works. People often ask what kind of art i do. I am an artist period. I don’t consider myself a painter or poet only but simply an artist. I’m driven by my ideas and feelings and the need to express them. These ideas are around what identity means and how that is expressed in co-relation to aesthetics in style and subculture. My work revolves around my own identity as a Mexican American, a Chicano. My current work is around these topics but go into the many facets of design, fashion design, painting, poetry and performance art.

© Sandoval Media

3. You are the best-dressed man in LA, in my opinion! I love your vintage style. Why is it important to look your best?

Thank you, I’m truly flattered that you would say that. Well, I can write a book around this question, lol and maybe I will one day, ha! But there are many reasons for a man to look his best. I can’t sit here and tell you the many reasons why but I would rather share why it is important to me. I grew up in the projects, and not ashamed to say we were damn poor. My grandfather pretty much raised me; I actually considered him my father. He worked 2 jobs 6 days a week. He was a landscaper (gardener) and he worked as a custodian at an old folks home all week long with one day off. Every Sunday, his only day off, he would get dressed up even if he was just watching TV around the house or going to the swap meet. We would go on shopping trips to West LA thrift stores where I would help him shop for clothing he could never afford.  My grandfather grew up in the late 1940s and 1950s Mexico so he dressed up from a young age. So the pride in oneself and appearance built self esteem. Before he passed away I asked him why he always dressed up on Sundays and he said because it was the only day he could have his dignity and be a man, the only day where he felt free to live and enjoy what he worked so hard for.

John and his grandfather 

As I got older it came more natural to have an affinity for style! It was not until my early 20s that I started to truly focus on the power of style and aesthetics and in recent years I lost over 100 lbs. so I realized that now I had so many options and realized that Style is ART, and that I cannot live without that medium to create. I realized that I am just a canvas and that I can create myself however I am driven to that day. Some days I wake up and I’m in modern style and some days I feel like I want to travel to the 1930s or 1960s. I can. I put on a jacket or particular vintage shirt, listen to some good music from the era and I’m there. LOL, I know I’m an artist and nerd…gimme a break! HA

4. We’ve talked before about how each of us has tried the corporate rat race and no matter how much money we were making, the experience was not ultimately fulfilling. Tell us about your experience, when you had that a-ha moment that you needed to do something different. What did you do about it?

Yes, I remember those conversations. I worked for a mean, unjust and unethical bank for about 8 years. I moved up the corporate ladder and started way at the bottom. I did exactly what they told me and always did it a lil better than that which got me moving up fast. One day after almost 7 years working there, I woke up and I was Manager and Assistant Vice President which is kinda of a blur. The fact was I took some time off for a vacation which I rarely did since I was a workaholic and on the 3rd day of vacation, I could not get out of bed. It finally sunk in that I just lost 7 years of my life. I was incredibly depressed, but I could not understand why I was so depressed. I had all the money I could want, I had a “good job”, I had just got an awesome new place in Los Feliz and had bought a new car, had ladies and good times. Yet I felt lied to. I realized that was not for me…that I could not labor away for someone else while they reaped the benefits at the expense of others. I realized that this is not how I wanted to live all my life. That I was not going to be 65 and start living. That just did not make sense. It took me a while to exit because I became so dependent on them and I felt trapped. None the less I had faith in myself and my creative spirit. I knew that I could make it and survive and also succeed by doing the things I love. That was the key: Finding a way to do what you love and do it so well and unique that you can create a business and sustain yourself from that in which brings you great joy! Thus I am on my journey every day and do all that I can creatively to sustain my self and to allow myself to continue to create and share art, poetry, performance and style with the world.

5. What are the 3 most important things to you and what advice do you have for others pursuing their creative dreams and goals out there?

The three most important things to me are 1: Loving and being true to oneself. 2: Creating and nurturing on multiple levels from art to friendships and family. 3: My own personal success and development as an individual. I believe that in my own success I will build the resources I need to also be able to help others succeed in their lives. I want to be able to create jobs and offer creative people the opportunities to work and also build their own success through following their passions and creative goals.

Advice for others, well this is the advice I give myself but its what works for me…Be yourself, do what you do, don’t try to be like anyone else, let your spirit drive you. Believe in what you do more than anyone else and have faith that it will work out if you work as hard as the universe does. Do not give up and do not be afraid of any challenge, welcome change and be open to opportunities around you and always, always follow your instinct; it’s usually right! lol

Chino, thank you so much for the opportunity to share a little bit about myself and thank you all for reading. Look for me on Instagram and Tumblr. Check out my Etsy store for great deals on vintage clothing too.

Thank you for your time and insights, John! As he told me earlier in our conversation, “sometimes I just want people to know I’m not just the door guy…lol” so the next time there’s a long line in front of Eastside Luv, be patient and don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with John about vintage fashion and mural art. If you love the vintage look, check out An Evening of Pachuco Boogie this Sunday, July 28, an event DJ Nikoya and John’s brand Barrio Dandy Vintage are hosting to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the LA Zoot Suit riots. Come dress in your vintage Sunday best and dance to all the swingin’ 1940s hits!

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