Most great artists aren’t appreciated until after they’re gone and their work becomes priceless. Mario Gomez was one of those artists who was appreciated during his lifetime, at least by those in the know. Mario, who recently passed away at age 54 due to a brain aneurysm, lived a humble lifestyle and loved painting, which is why he did what he did. It was never about the big money for this SoCal automotive paint master.

Mario started at the age of 12 sweeping floors and masking cars with Bill Carter of Carter Pro Paint. Bill not only gave Mario a break, but he also hired Walt Prey, who was around the same age as Mario. This was the start of a long relationship between Mario and Walt. Walt’s pinstriping work really complemented Mario’s paint jobs.

Many of the cars painted by Mario were featured in various automotive magazines, including publications from Japan and France. He was lucky enough to see his artwork published when he was alive. Mario didn’t just paint lowriders. He did it all-boats, dragsters, Harleys-but his favorite were definitely the low-lows.

Hearing the news of a fallen brother the night before the LRM Hall of Fame banquet in September was hard for us, but we all held our heads up high as we knew that he would have wanted us to continue on Joe’s night. The next day, several people became involved with the painting of Mario’s casket, which was acquired through Audio Munoz, Lifestyle Car Club vice president. This masterpiece tribute was put together in four days in order to be ready for the memorial service. The paint crew started that Saturday night, trying not to waste time as nobody then knew exactly on which day the service would be held.

As soon as Danny of D&D Designs started to work on the coffin, funny things began to happen. For one thing, the casket lid wouldn’t stay open. It only stayed open after Danny and the guys asked Mario to quit f*cking around and let them do what they had to do. They finally masked it up and got it ready for the basecoat. As soon as Danny started mixing paint and getting the paint ready to be poured into the spray gun, the radio went silent. As he started to pour the paint into the gun, the song “Us And Them” by Pink Floyd began playing. Everyone at the shop had goosebumps because that was the music that Mario used to listen to when it was time to paint. It was like getting Mario’s blessings, because after that, the rest of the project went as smooth as one of Mario’s paint jobs.

For the next few nights, vigils were held at Danny’s shop as everyone who knew Mario dropped by to pay respect. There was a lot of beer drinking, a lot of story telling and a lot of painting, just as if Mario had never left us, but we all knew that he was gone when we signed the inner coffin lid. Guys came from all over to help out. Bill Carter gave us the Murano pearl that was used to make Mario’s favorite butterscotch color.

Efrain “Buggs” Gonzales of Arizona wrapped up some loose ends and drove in to help out with the painting and striping. Albert Gonzalez would go to work and come back to help wet-sand between stages or help out with whatever was needed. Abel “OG Abel” Izaguirre put it down, as he volunteered to airbrush the coffin. George Correa did a lot of running around and doing whatever was needed from polishing the rails of the coffin to donating materials from his secret stash.

Guys who had not done any painting in a while did what they could to help out. Sorell Knobler, who used to flake with “Big Ed” Madrigal, helped with the gold leafing. Rico Duran of Duran’s Quality Painting volunteered to clear the casket in his booth. The looks on peoples’ faces as they saw this coffin being transported in a pickup truck to finish being assembled were almost the same as those looks that people give those Mario paint jobs when they’re seen on the road.

Everybody who knew Mario helped out in one way or another. It seemed that, even in death, Mario brought everyone together just like he did when Lifestyle C.C. rolled into a show as one.

The baddest painter that ever was and the baddest painter that ever will be could be said about Mario Gomez, the famous painter from the Candy Factory. Mario died at the early age of 54, but he accomplished so much in his 40-plus years in the industry. As some of us say, he deserved this tribute and more, as he helped make Lifestyle C.C. and those who knew him what we are today. We will always be grateful. May you “Ride In Peace.”

Trevelin: F*ck the rest, he was the best! To the man who could lay it down.

Rick Ortega: We found Mario after we were cruising the boulevard as this kid named Neil was cruising his T-bird. That car was bad. We asked him who painted his car. It was his uncle Mario. My old ’64 Impala, “Master of Elegance,” was the first club car that Mario painted and after that the club kept going back.

Mike Lopez: When I dropped off my car, I remember it sat for weeks, and then one day Mario told me to come down. When I seen the car, it had some weird patterns. I couldn’t understand what he was doing. When I left, I was like, what the hell did I get myself into. Two weeks later, Mario called and said come on down, “I’m done.” I didn’t know what to expect. The results were the “Twilight Zone.” Mario made me who I am with that paint job that he laid down. I’ll always be grateful for that.

Ruben “Buggs” Ochoa: He was king and he went out king with all of his artwork that he laid out through the years. That’s why I’m here today-to pay respect to the man who always kept us on guard.

Saul Vargas: I remember when I was going to paint my Monte Carlo and Mario asked me for a deposit. I was like, sure, no problem, how much? Mario said to bring $300 to be put on the books, so I chuckled when I told him that I was on the way. When I showed up, I handed him a $20 bill and a bucket of change that amounted to about $300. He laughed so hard and said, “F*cker, in all of my life, I have never had anybody pull this sh*t. I’m always going to remember this.” He got busy and I ultimately went with another painter. Mario would always tell me, “Saul, when it’s time to do your Impala, I got you. I’m gonna take care of you, cha-ching.”

Danny Galvez: I was inspired by that dude. That guy was on a whole different level. Paying tribute to him was an honor. He helped make the club what it is today and elevate the standards in the lowrider world.

Efrain “Buggs” Gonzales: I came down to pay respects to the man who influenced me, as he made me look at paint differently. To help work on his coffin was a big honor for me as those who knew him were very lucky to know his artistic side as well as his personal side.

Rico Duran: I finally got to meet and party with Mario when we went to Arizona. He was really cool people. He was down to earth and I had to pay tribute to him by helping out in whichever way I could.

Albert “The Fireman” Gonzales: Mario set the bar in custom paints and I don’t think that it will be broken or topped.

George Correa: All the running around that I did to help out for Mario’s funeral was for the love of Mario. Why wouldn’t I help? He left me many memories and a paint job that I’ll always be grateful for.

Chuy “The Rabbit” Alonzo: He learned from other people to make his own style. It’s too bad that he took to the grave what he knew, and that those who were learning from him didn’t get to learn it all.

Joe Ray: Mario was known as “Mario Classic Colors” and then he changed it to the Candy Factory when he went crazy cranking them out like an assembly line. I got to know him on a personal level when we could talk about colors, the different combinations. We would always argue about colors and color combinations, as he would keep me on guard. It was great as I knew that he would not let anybody into his world. Now that he’s gone, I can appreciate the paint jobs even more, as well as the colors that he would lay down.