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Table of Contents

Introduction

Lowbrow, also known as pop surrealism, is a groundbreaking and unconventional art movement that emerged in the late 1960s in Los Angeles and the West Coast. Characterized by its fusion of high and low culture, the movement has produced a wealth of compelling, evocative, and often controversial works. This article offers an in-depth exploration of the history, key artists, and enduring impact of Lowbrow art.

Ron English - Super Supper, 2010
Super Supper by Ron English 2010

The Roots of Lowbrow Art

Lowbrow art finds its origins in the underground comix scene, hot rod culture, and punk music of the 1970s. With its roots in various countercultural movements, Lowbrow art is often viewed as a populist art movement which evolved in response to the elitism and inaccessibility of the contemporary art world.

Diabolica (2019) by Min Kyung Kwon
Diabolica (2019) by Min Kyung Kwon

Incorporating elements of illustration, street art, and graffiti, Lowbrow art challenges conventional artistic norms and embraces an eclectic mix of influences. By blending the boundaries between high and low culture, this provocative art movement has helped to redefine the traditional notions of what constitutes ‘good’ art.

Notable Artists and Pioneers

A number of pioneering artists have played a critical role in shaping the Lowbrow art movement. Among the most influential are:

  • Robert Williams: Often considered the godfather of Lowbrow art, Williams’ work combines elements of surrealism, hot rod culture, and underground comix. His groundbreaking 1979 book, “The Lowbrow Art of Robert Williams,” helped to popularize the term and establish the movement.
  • Ron English: A key figure in the development of Lowbrow art, English is known for his thought-provoking and subversive works that tackle consumerism, politics, and popular culture.
  • Mark Ryden: As a leading figure in the Pop Surrealism subgenre, Ryden’s distinctive style blends classical techniques with contemporary, often dark, subject matter.
  • Todd Schorr: Inspired by the golden age of animation, Schorr’s work is a surreal blend of pop culture and fine art, showcasing the versatility of Lowbrow art.
  • Audrey Kawasaki: a Japanese-American artist known for her ethereal and melancholic paintings that often feature young, wistful-looking women. Her works are characterized by delicate lines, muted tones, and a mix of both Eastern and Western artistic influences.
  • Konan Lim: a Dubia-based filipino artist known for his style formulated through whimsical happy thoughts into a realistic interpretation. The characters are stuck in childhood nostalgia, blended with classical surface on present pace. Cuteness overloads with a touch of strong colorful and playful surprises, mixed with a dark suspicious atmosphere.
  • Alex Gross: a contemporary American artist known for his oil paintings that combine elements of realism, surrealism, and pop culture, often featuring human figures and animals in unconventional settings. 
  • Ray Caesar:  hauntingly beautiful, dreamlike scenes populated by strange, otherworldly creatures that blur the line between human and animal. Caesar’s style is heavily influenced by the art of the Rococo and Baroque periods, as well as the works of surrealist artists such as Salvador Dali and Max Ernst. 
  • Victor Moscoso: psychedelic artist whos work is characterized by vibrant colors, bold typography, and distorted images that create a sense of movement and energy. His designs often feature multiple layers of color and intricate patterns, which were achieved through a process of color separation that Moscoso developed himself.
  • Barry McGee: His work explores themes such as urban culture, youth identity, and the effects of gentrification. McGee’s signature style includes geometric shapes, bold colors, and hand-drawn typography.

The Influence of Pop Culture and Subcultures

Lowbrow art is heavily influenced by popular culture, with artists drawing inspiration from sources such as comic books, pulp magazines, and science fiction. The movement also reflects the impact of various subcultures, including punk, skateboarding, and hot rod cultures.

Incarnation by Mark Ryden
Incarnation by Mark Ryden (2009)

By incorporating elements of these diverse influences, Lowbrow art transcends traditional artistic boundaries and encourages viewers to question the societal norms and values that underpin the mainstream art world.

Lowbrow Art in Galleries and Museums

Despite its initial status as an outsider art form, Lowbrow art has gained increasing recognition and acceptance within the established art community. This shift has led to the inclusion of Lowbrow works in galleries and museums around the world.

Widow by Min Kyung Kwon

In the early years of the movement, Lowbrow art was primarily showcased in alternative spaces and galleries. However, as the movement gained momentum, prestigious institutions such as the Laguna Art Museum in California and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles began to feature Lowbrow art in their exhibitions.

In 2010, the seminal exhibition “Art in the Streets” at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles further solidified the movement’s place in the mainstream art world. This exhibition showcased the work of prominent Lowbrow artists alongside street art legends, demonstrating the growing acceptance and influence of Lowbrow art in contemporary culture.

Lowbrow Art Magazines

Juxtapoz Magazine

Juxtapoz Magazine is a contemporary art magazine founded in 1994 by Robert Williams, Fausto Vitello, and Greg Escalante. The magazine covers a wide range of art forms, including street art, graffiti, illustration, photography, and underground art. Juxtapoz Magazine is known for its unique and eclectic style, featuring artists who challenge mainstream norms and push boundaries.

The magazine has been instrumental in promoting the Lowbrow art movement, which emerged in the 1970s as a reaction against the dominant art styles of the time. The magazine has also helped to bring attention to emerging artists and has been a platform for established artists to showcase their work.

In addition to its print publication, Juxtapoz Magazine has an online presence, which features interviews, reviews, and news about the art world. The magazine has also sponsored and curated numerous art exhibitions and events around the world, further cementing its reputation as a leading voice in the contemporary art scene.

Hi-Fructose Magazine

Hi-Fructose Magazine is a contemporary art magazine that features a wide variety of artists and art forms, including street art, graffiti, pop surrealism, and more.

It was founded in 2005 by artists Annie Owens and Attaboy and is based in San Francisco, California. Each issue of the magazine features in-depth interviews with artists, studio visits, and reviews of art shows and exhibitions from around the world. Hi-Fructose Magazine is published quarterly and is available both in print and online.

The Legacy of the Lowbrow Art Movement 

The Lowbrow art movement has had a profound and lasting impact on the art world, breaking down barriers between high and low culture and expanding the definition of what constitutes art. As a result, Lowbrow has paved the way for a new generation of artists who continue to challenge and redefine artistic norms.

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Alice in Lockdown by Marta Zubieta (2020)

In recent years, the influence of Lowbrow art has expanded beyond the visual arts, shaping the worlds of fashion, design, and even the culinary arts. Its impact can be seen in the work of streetwear brands, tattoo artists, and even gourmet chefs who embrace the movement’s ethos of blending high and low culture.

Furthermore, the movement has inspired new subgenres, such as Pop Surrealism, which continues to evolve and push the boundaries of traditional artistic expression.

Conclusion

The Lowbrow art movement has left an indelible mark on the landscape of contemporary art. By challenging the elitism and inaccessibility of the art world, Lowbrow has democratized art and empowered a new generation of artists to create works that are thought-provoking, engaging, and accessible to a wider audience.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is pop surreal and lowbrow art?

Pop surreal and lowbrow art is a genre that combines popular culture, surrealism, and unconventional imagery, often characterized by its irreverent and accessible style. 

What influenced the Lowbrow art movement?

The Lowbrow art movement was influenced by underground comic books, street art, graffiti, punk music, and popular culture of the 1960s and 1970s. 

What are the characteristics of lowbrow art?

Characteristics of lowbrow art include humor, satire, surrealism, outsider aesthetics, and a strong connection to popular culture and everyday experiences. 

Who invented lowbrow art?

Lowbrow art  does not have a single inventor; it emerged organically from various underground art scenes and subcultures in the late 20th century. 

Where did lowbrow originate?

Lowbrow art  originated in the United States, particularly in Los Angeles, California, during the late1960’s and early 1970s. 

Who is the godfather of lowbrow art?

Robert Williams, an American painter and cartoonist, is often referred to as the godfather of lowbrow art due to his significant influence and pioneering work within the genre.