Lowbrow Art and Pop Surrealism – Research Notes

An article in Wikipedia notes that scholarly writing on Lowbrow art is limited as there seems to be uncertainty within the mainstream art community of the legitimacy of Lowbrow as a movement. Part of this seems to be that, initially, many of the artists were self-taught and the work itself was based mainly on the figure and technical skills.

Lowbrow art started in the 1970s as an underground art movement in the Los Angeles area. It is a populist art movement, characterised by humour and sarcasm, with roots in underground comix, punk music and hot-rod street culture. Artists associated with the group tended to be self-taught and came from a variety of backgrounds including comic books, tattooing and commercial art. They used subversive humour and sarcasm to comment on social and political issues.

The movement did not have an official name until the 1990s when Robert Williams, an underground cartoonist, used the phrase to differentiate his work from that which was more mainstream and academic. In 1994, Williams established Juxtapoz a magazine which helped to raise the visibility of the artists and increase their popularity.

Within the group there emerged a subgenre of Pop Surrealism. These artists, such as Tod Schorr, stayed true to the Lowbrow creed of subversion, sarcasm and humour but were classically trained. Their work moved away from the rawness of the original movement towards the creation of exaggerated beauty. Pop Surrealism explores the dreamlike states of Surrealism and merges this with the mundane and superficial world of Pop Art. In doing so it appeals both to those who have little interest in the mainstream art world and to those who do and can recognise references in their work to artists such as Goya, Van Gogh, Hieronymus Bosch and Velázquez. Today many involved in the Lowbrow movement such as Ray Caesar are using digital technology to create 3D versions of their fantasy worlds.

Lowbrow art has also been associated with the works of Dadaists and the American Realism movement, both of which have questioned the distinction between more mainstream academic art and more popular forms of art including folk art.
Artists within the Lowbrow or Pop Surrealism movements are now blurring these lines with many, such as Ray Caesar and Mark Ryden, exhibiting in mainstream galleries.

Related Posts

Mark Ryden – Cámara de las maravillas –  https://katespainting2.wordpress.com/2017/05/05/mark-ryden-camara-de-las-maravillas/


Caesar, R. http://www.raycaesar.com/

Centro de Arte Contemporáneo of Málaga (2016) Mark Ryden. At: http://cacmalaga.eu/2016/12/16/mark-ryden-4/ (Accessed 05.04.2017)

Kordic, A. (s.d.) ‘What is the Lowbrow Art Movement? When Surrealism took over Pop’ In: widewalls.ch [online] At: http://www.widewalls.ch/lowbrow-art-pop-surrealism/ (Accessed on 20.06.17)

Ryden, M. http://markryden.com/

Wikipedia. (2016) ‘Lowbrow (art movement)’ [online] At: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lowbrow_(art_movement) (Accessed on 20.06.17)

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