Meet the 82-year-old bodybuilding rhinestone artist

4 mins read

An artist, a bodybuilder, a writer, a philosopher, a leatherworker, a singer, an aircraft mechanic, and a salesman.

All of these had been labeled to Gerald “The Maestro” Gaxiola, 82, who is especially known as the Bay Area legend. For decades, he resided in Albany where he is known for his rhinestone cowboy outfits and “Maestro Day.”

He has accumulated a total of 11, 000 artworks in nearly five decades, but Gaxiola does not want for it to be sold.

He experienced working as an aircraft mechanic and transitioned later to become a hardware salesman.

He, however, left this job and traveled to Oakland for his journeyman printing dreams.

“The idea of selling something to somebody goes against my grain,” Gaxiola said on his website.“To this day, I can’t stand TV commercials.”

“Growing up on a ranch in a small town he always thought that art was something done by ‘them,’ never by ‘us,’” he wrote in his website’s bio section. “However, he was persuaded by a woman who was firing some of his ceramics to take art seriously and go to art college.”

He enrolled at the California College of Arts and Craft in Oakland in 1969 but as a full-time worker at 30 years old, he observed his classmates as ill-natured and entitled.

He then came across Mark Rokill’s “The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh” which recognized Van Gogh’s “outsider” status and his focus on life’s simplicity. Eventually, he “came to realize that art was not an intellectual pursuit or a privilege for only the well to do,” but “much deeper than that,” he wrote.

“It was about the human soul.” 

With this, he left school and his job and poured all of himself into productive practice, making Van Gogh and Picasso-inspired paintings that mirror nature, cities, and people. This gave him instant fame in the area.

His “Maestro” tag was first used by a priest after he was invited to paint a huge religious mural.

Gaxiola never stopped and started looking for another persona. He opted for rhinestone cowboys who he looked up to as a child.

In 1985, filmmaker Les Blank met Gaxiola at a “Maestro Day” and figured to come up with a documentary for the man of mystery, which was entitled “The Maestro: The King of the Cowboy Artists.”

“Art is a religion, not a business,” Gaxiola was quoted in the film.

At 72, his life has again gained another twist as he started the “Muscle Marathon” which he began in 2009.

“This time it was more about my health — both physical and spiritual,” Gaxiola, who already quit smoking and drinking, wrote, as reported by SFGate.

“My marathon is part of my artist’s life now and with it a new image has emerged,” Gaxiola shared on his website. “It has been a slow but deliberate image change from cowboy artist to physical/spiritual artist. It hasn’t been easy…But the transition is sincere and I am comfortable with things as they are now.”

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