Artist goes a little wild with 'Jumping the Shark' exhibit

Oh, Fonzie will never live that moment down.

In a 1977 episode of "Happy Days," the beloved greaser played by Henry Winkler performed a daredevil stunt by leaping over a shark on water skis. To many fans, that episode signaled the moment when the show strayed from its original premise — and "jumping the shark" has now become cultural shorthand for flailing to keep an audience's attention.

To Juan Tocayo, though, jumping the shark isn't all bad. The Costa Mesa artist, whose show at the As Issued Art + Design Bookstore bears that phrase as its title, is happy to shock and perplex. "Jumping the Shark," on view at The Lab shopping center, features images of skeleton wrestlers, zombie surfers, mock movie posters and more. On Tuesday, Tocayo took a break from his day job as a graphic designer for Fox Racing to talk about the exhibit:


I'm curious about the title of your show, "Jumping the Shark." I know that's about the "Happy Days" episode where Fonz jumps over the shark. You know, people have made so much about that episode over the years. Is that episode really as bad as people make it out to be?

I don't think it was a bad episode. I think that "Happy Days" had run its course already and there was nothing that could have been done to save the show anymore. I think people were just ready to move on, and I guess — I don't know much about what happened behind the scenes, but I think they pulled out all the stops to try to stay relevant and keep going, to keep the show going. I think that's just where "jumping the shark" just became a pretty popular saying, after that.

Do you think most shows end up doing that?

I think so, in their own way, yeah. I think that one was kind of cool.

Do you think that was the worst case of jumping the shark, or do you think another show has done it even worse?

Off the top of my head, I can't really recall anyone else doing it and pulling it off in such a manner, but I'm sure everybody's been guilty of jumping the shark at one point or another in life.

So how did you come upon that as the title for your show? Am I witnessing shark-jumping here on the walls?

Um, no. I had to think about the show title for a while, and some stuff was happening in sports. I can't really remember right now exactly what it was, but my wife brought it up, actually. She was like, "Oh, he's trying to jump the shark." And I was like, "I've heard that before. What does that mean?" And she broke it down for me, and I was like, "Oh my God, that makes perfect sense for what I'm trying to do now." I'm just trying to do as much cool stuff without really having a certain — it kind of looks like there's a theme going on, but I just kind of wanted to do a bunch of wild stuff.

I have the PR materials right here. It says, "'Jumping the Shark' has been all about last-ditch efforts to get people's attention — pop culture at its best and worst." Is that what you were aiming at here — kind of high and low pop culture?

Yeah, I was kind of trying to sell out in a way, but not really. You know, it's like, what are people going to like? [He gestures to a picture of a woman kissing a zombie.] A pop-art kiss — but twist it into my own style.

After the last hundred years, after Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and some of the other artists, is there really any shame in pop art anymore?

I don't think there really is. I think that's what it's meant to be. It's meant to be in your face.

These look very Robert Crumb here on the right. Was he one of your influences?

Oh, yeah. He's definitely one of them. I have many. I'm a big Robert Crumb fan. There's just a lot of illustrators that have done this kind of stuff in the past. I'm a big Ed Roth fan, the hot rod-style art. I do a lot of work like this at [my day job] too.

Did you always want to be an artist growing up?

I actually had no idea that I could draw. I just figured everyone knew how to draw. I wanted to be an architect, or I wanted to be a firefighter.

How long did you live in Cuba before you left for America?

I was there till I was 3 years old, and then the Mariel movement happened, and we were part of the mass exodus.

Have you ever thought what your life might be like if you were an artist in Cuba?

Not particularly, but I have come across people that are working with artists in Cuba now. Some of the art is just amazing, but they're not getting any recognition for it because of all the relations that are going on with the U.S. and Cuba right now.

Is there anything in this show that you think might not be allowed in Cuba?

Oh, I don't know. I think now, most of it would be allowed because they just released that movie "Juan of the Dead," and it's a zombie movie and it was entirely filmed in Cuba. It was a big step for any kind of motion picture.

Is that their answer to "Shaun of the Dead"?

Yeah, it was. It was like a parody of "Shaun of the Dead."

A parody of a parody?

Yeah. [laughs]

Another thing that struck me looking around here — you're very much into skulls. Can you talk about your fascination with skulls?

You know, it just started becoming so easy to draw, and they've been really relevant in the action sports industry right now. It seems like every T-shirt, to make it cool, needs a skull. And I think subconsciously, it was just easier to extend what I do at work into my personal art.

If You Go

What: "Jumping the Shark"

Where: As Issued Art + Design Bookstore, 2930 Bristol St., No. A104, Costa Mesa

When: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays through July 14

Cost: Free

Information: (949) 300-7118 or

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