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Lowbrow (art movement)

Related: American art - "low" art - low culture -


Lowbrow or lowbrow art is probably the most widely used name describing an underground visual art movement that arose in the Los Angeles, California, area in the late 1970s. It is also commonly referred to as pop surrealism. (Though Kirsten Anderson, who edited the book Pop Surrealism, considers lowbrow and pop surrealism to be related but distinct movements. [1]) Lowbrow is a widespread populist art movement with origins in the underground comix world, punk music, hot-rod street culture, and other California subcultures.

The majority of lowbrow artworks are paintings, with a few sculptures as well.

The first artists to create what came to be known as lowbrow art were also underground cartoonists: Robert Williams and Gary Panter. Early shows were in alternative galleries in Los Angeles. The movement has steadily grown since its beginning, with hundreds of artists working in this style, moving it in various directions. The creation of the lowbrow magazine Juxtapoz by Robert Williams in 1994 gave the movement a large boost, bringing it to the attention of people across the world.

Mark Ryden, Tim Biskup, Gary Baseman, Anthony Ausgang, and Camille Rose Garcia are some of the more well-known artists currently working in this style. Lowbrow continues to grow in popularity - the movement has more web sites, galleries and fans devoted to it than ever before.

Lowbrow artworks are often influenced by, and make reference to, the following sources.

Lowbrow magazines, books and galleries
The magazine Juxtapoz functions as a sort of journal of the movement. Books about lowbrow art include collections of the work of artists like Williams, Joe Coleman, The Pizz, SHAG (Josh Agle), and Liz McGrath. There are also several books in print that survey the movement, including Kirsten Anderson's Pop Surrealism (ISBN 0867196181) and Matt Dukes Jordan's Weirdo Deluxe (ISBN 081184241X). Lowbrow art is shown many galleries around the United States and in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Of the over 100 galleries showing lowbrow art in the world, many are dedicated almost entirely to this kind of art. Notable lowbrow galleries include Billy Shire's La Luz de Jesus gallery in Los Angeles, the Jonathan LeVine Gallery in New York, and Roq la Rue in Seattle, Washington.

Lowbrow vs. "fine" art
The term "lowbrow" has been used to identify the sources of inspiration for the art and as a way of asserting that lowbrow art is, in part, a critique of highbrow culture. Some museums, art critcs, galleries, etc. have been uncertain as to the official status of lowbrow in relation to the fine art world. Some doubt that it's a "legitimate" art movement. This may be because many lowbrow artists began their careers in fields not normally considered fine art, such as illustration, tattooing and comic books.

However, quite a few artists who started their careers by showing in lowbrow galleries have gone on to show their work primarily in mainstream "fine" art galleries. Robert Williams, Manuel Ocampo, Georganne Deen, and the Clayton Brothers are examples. Indeed, in the past 85 years, beginning with the work of the Dadaists and artists like Marcel Duchamp, artists have questioned the distinctions between high and low art, fine art and folk art, and popular culture and high-art culture. In some sense Lowbrow art is about exploring and critiquing those distinctions. For some, the label "lowbrow" is misunderstood to mean that the work itself is lowbrow, when in fact this term has always been used ironically to comment on the ongoing struggle by many lowbrow artists to subvert elitist highbrow art assumptions and values.

Just as the lowbrow artists blur boundaries between high and low culture, many highbrow artists like Lisa Yuskavage, Barry McGee, Kenny Scharf, Takashi Murakami, Jim Shaw, John Currin, and Mike Kelley use artistic strategies similar to those employed by lowbrow artists. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lowbrow [Dec 2005]

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