Known alternatively as the Lowbrow movement, Pop Surrealism is an art form that originated in LA’s underground scene in the 1970s. Like other surrealist art forms, lowbrow art strives to reach deep into the unconscious mind and bring to life our innermost thoughts. Our compulsions, hidden memories, and more are displayed in unusual and absurd ways, no matter how light or dark. In this movement, however, artists draw inspiration from popular culture. In a pop surrealist collage, an artist may take inspiration from cartoons, street art, various music scenes, comics, pinups, and modern-day brands, amongst other things.
Pop surrealism is all about breaking the rules of conventional art— that’s why lowbrow artists strive to make up their own. Some critics turn their noses up at this art movement and, at times, even question its validity. Nonetheless, pop surrealists understand the power of borrowing aspects of pop culture and turning them on their head to create something unique, that connects with audiences in an utterly profound way.
Are you interested in learning more about the lowbrow movement? Take a look at the following profiles of some of the world’s best pop surrealist collage artists.
Some of Today’s Best Lowbrow and Collage Artists
Mikayla Lapierre is a Brooklyn based art director with a strong background in advertising design and graphic design. Lapierre’s works, self-titled “Side Dimes”, dissect the cultural and societal norms surrounding femininity. In most of her works, she takes 18th and 19th-century portraiture and digitally imprints modern-day items that the women in her pieces interact with. The women in these classical portraits can be seen chewing bubblegum, posing with fast food, and wearing branded jewelry. In her most recent series, Lapierre experiments with personal protective equipment and stacks of toilet paper in her Social Distancing Series — a response to the current events surrounding COVID-19.
San Diego artist Lindsey “Linz” Sepe is known for her otherworldly prints. The events in her works feel as though they are happening on another planet, or perhaps even an Earth in another dimension. From skateboarding on Saturn’s rings to lounging on the moon to trippy time warps, Sepe’s works are far from boring to look at. West-coast beach pop influences are highly apparent in Sepe’s pieces. She often incorporates vintage photos of bikini-clad models, palm trees, vintage architecture, and intense pops of color.
Jeff Drew Pictures
Jeff Drew is a musician, animator, and graphic designer. Where he’s gaining increasing notoriety, however, is his surrealist artwork. Drew takes inspiration from a seemingly endless number of sources, but perhaps the two most apparent are vintage movie (as well as burlesque) posters and the world of the occult. Much like a deck of tarot cards, Drew encapsulates many of his works with elaborate borders and labels his creations with bold graphic titles or descriptions. Drew often plays with the concept of duality, whether it’s through the literal use of masks or the interpretation of beloved television characters as more than what they seem.
Artist and illustrator Tyler Varsell is based in Connecticut. Her works have been published in esteemed publications like the New York Times and Kolaj Magazine. Varsell uses collage as a means of identifying and questioning our world. Though her emotional intent varies between works, as with all artists, Varsells works have a tranquil and even comforting quality about them. Varsell’s collages mesh symbols of her own subconscious thoughts and memories with appealing landscapes and symbols that bring a smile to the viewer’s face. After all, what food lover wouldn’t want to smother themselves in a bed of mac & cheese?
Tau Dal Poi (stylized online as “Taudalpoi”) is a Norweigan artist based currently in London. His works are simpler in design than some of the other artists on this list, but no less expertly crafted. Taudalpoi’s mixes awe-inspiring cosmic graphics with natural landscapes, or pieces of modern architecture — or, in some cases, both. The human subjects in his prints are often miniaturized, causing the viewer to reflect on how small we truly are in this vast universe. While other artists push to make showcase this fact as sobering, or even disheartening, Taudalpoi’s subjects enjoy the expanse, feeling joy, tranquility, freedom, and power. As a result, we feel the same.
Artist and product designer Phil Jones has an incredible sense of humor, which he imbues in nearly everything he creates. Jones works across a variety of mediums, including film, photography, and design. If you aren’t aware of his “Lord of the Flies” swatter, you should be. The majority of Jones’ artwork is more print than collage work, and these prints are minimalist in nature. Nonetheless, they are surrealist works that comment on various aspects of popular culture. Jones makes it his challenge to take idioms and puns and turn them into lighthearted pictures that are bound to make you smile.
Graphic and ceramic artist Lorien Stern runs her brand out of Inyokern California. In her work, her intention is to bring joy to her audience through her rounded and inviting designs and comforting subject matter. Stern’s main subjects are animals of several varieties. She displays keen interests in predators and marine life (mainly sharks), the intimidating features of which she disarms with bright colors and bright prints. In her creations, Stern takes these real-life animals and turns them into surreal creations — fantasy creatures that leave adults and children alike in awe.
The works of Heather Heininge blur the lines between surrealist collage and reality. The stunning landscapes in her prints are so artfully crafted together, you might confuse them for photographs of real places. While this bafflement is a coveted reaction by most artists in the world of lowbrow, Heininge’s collages are anything but true to life. Heininge often experiments with doorways and portals to other worlds. Her human subjects are nearly always in a state of travel or contemplation — perhaps a purposeful reflection on the human desire to search for more on both spiritual and physical plains.
Based in Lisbon, Portugal, Luisa Azevedo has turned heads in the art world since she was 18 years old. Azevedo started experimenting with surrealism in 2015. After some practice, she began to develop her own unique style a year later. She began using real-life photographs of locations, objects, and animals to build fantasy creations that any Hollywood exec would beg to use as conceptual work for their next big feature. In her efforts to satisfy her need for magic, Azevedo has used flora and fauna to create hundreds of fantastical creatures and environments that anyone would hope to visit.
Expert photographer and salsa maker extraordinaire, Justine Henderson is also beginning to dive into the world of pop surrealism. In her collage work, Henderson experiments with wide-open spaces like desert plains, empty roads, and serene mountain ranges. Her sources are typically vintage, as seen in her use of a gun-slinging western hero in her print, The Gods Must Be Crazy. In each piece, she gives her audience an intriguing focal point, which is often out-of-place in contrast to the rest of the setting. Though her catalog of collage work is currently limited, her pieces have gained high favor in the art community.
A self-described “psychedelic analog collage artist”, the Arizona-based Mr.babies is well on his way to becoming a household name in the world of surrealist art. Mr.babies uses collage as a form of meditation and reflection. He starts with a vintage base and works digitally to create a psychedelic symphony of mind-blowing imagery. His expertly crafted collages are at times so intricate that one could spend hours finding new meaning in every square inch. At other times, Mr.babies delivers simpler works meant to convey a single message or emotion.
Irie Wata’s collages can be identified for their tendencies to bend the physical rules of our world. In her prints, you can find people frolicking and driving their cars in the sky, playing pool on the moon, and relaxing by the world’s literal edge. Wata creates a stark dichotomy in each and every one of her pieces. She mixes the activities of everyday living with environmental oddities and even catastrophic events. Though her interpretation can vary between viewers, Wata seems to illustrate humanity’s ignorance of the beauty of our planet – and the catastrophe we cause when we take it for granted.
Born in Philadelphia and currently based in South Florida, Cuban-American artist Richard Vergez uses collage to showcase his ideas and perspectives on how human beings interact with each other. Vergez’s work has been featured in New York, Chicago, Londo, France, and Argentina, among others. His mixed-media collages are often minimalist works — a few special elements chosen to help Vergez create profound stories. Nearly all of his works are human-centric; his subjects are often depicted in mid-action or altered to showcase specific ideas about the human psyche.
As you can see from the wondrous works of these artists, pop surrealism varies significantly in design and execution. Pop culture is vast, and an artist could head in any direction when developing concepts and deciding which media they should use to convey them. This, however, is what makes pop surrealist collage work so profound.