|Anatomy of a Somnambulist, by Mia Araujo|
Artistic movements are a constant and organic system in the art world. Some arise in response to other movements, and others are created by the innovation of a single artist’s imagination. The artistic movement known as “Lowbrow art” or “Pop Surrealism” was born in the Los Angeles area in the 1970s. It began as an underground style with heavy influences from pop culture, comics, and other subcultures.
Pop Surrealism has been on the periphery of the art world for years, occasionally cropping up in mainstream galleries across the country. It has been chronically excluded from the “fine arts” sphere due to its unconventional origins. Each of these artists has enormous talent but reside on the outskirts of the traditional bubble. Many of the artists in the Pop Surrealist genre are self-taught and lack a traditional arts foundation, alienating them from the “legitimate” art world. Many of the artists come from backgrounds in illustration, tattooing, and comic books.
The term “lowbrow art” was coined by artist Robert Williams for the title of his book: The Lowbrow Art of Robt. Williams. He wanted a term for his type of art since authorized art institutions refused to recognize his style. Williams has since admitted that the term “lowbrow art” is ill fitting for the genre. Instead, Robert Williams prefers to describe his work, and the genre that sprung from the title of his book, “cartoon-tainted abstract surrealism.”
This estrangement from the fine arts world has not stopped people from collecting Pop Surrealism, however. Collectors are drawn to the figurative and narrative focus of Pop Surrealism. The genre highlights humor and detail fused with pop culture references, some rather old-fashioned. Regional styles have developed across the United States as well. The “west coast” style is more heavily influenced by comix and hot-rod car culture than other parts of the nation. The worldwide spread of Pop Surrealism has caused some very interesting cross-culture effects. As the style develops, there may be more branching, leading to the creation of new artistic movements.
In 1994, Robert Williams founded the magazine Juxtapoz, which continues to be the frontline of writing, media exposure, and Pop Surrealist art community news. The magazine advertises events, galleries, and shows. The magazine is a microcosm of the entire movement and subculture. Each sub-group of the art movement is represented including illustration, graffiti, tattoo, erotica, street art, and music and film.
Some galleries tailor specifically to Pop Surrealism, expanding the credibility of the style. As the community of artists grew, so did the number of galleries showing lowbrow art. One of the galleries that exhibits this type of art, particularly by local artists, is Thumbprint Gallery in La Jolla. The gallery is located at 920 Kline Street and is open Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 12pm to 4pm.