Robert Williams is the founder of Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine, the premiere magazine of the Pop Surrealism movement. Kirsten Anderson is the author of Pop Surrealism: The Rise of Underground Art. She’s also the owner and curator of Roq La Rue Gallery, one of the oldest and most well-known spaces devoted to pop surrealist art. I’m republishing excerpts from their writings on Pop Surrealism as a companion to my review of Angie Mason’s recent exhibition at Rabbit Hole Gallery.
Robert Williams discusses the Pop Surrealist movement with an author writing a history of Californian art: “The question was: How do you inform an extremely well-versed and perceptive art historian that, despite her extensive academic background, unbeknownst to her, lying coiled like a cobra at her feet is one of the most aggressive, vital, and overlooked art movements since Pop Art? How do you simply paraphrase fifty years of undocumented art evolution into a concise explainable statement, while keeping a straight face, to an expert who might be a little suspicious?”
This is what I told her: “I belong to a rather loose-knit group of artists that, because of a fifty-year dominance of abstract and conceptual art, have been left isolated from the more conventional academic mainstream. All of us, with few exceptions, function in the craftsmanship-based realm of representational art. To better understand this, you have to realize that we gain our source material and inspiration from some of the most illustrious, colorful and controversial influences and graphic traditions that one could possibly emerge from.
“We spawn from story illustration, comic book art, science fiction, movie poster art, motion picture production and effects, animation, music art and posters, psychedelic and punk rock art, hot rod and biker art, surfer, beach bum and skateboard graphics, graffiti art, tattoo art, pin-up art, pornography and myriad other commonplace egalitarian art forms. And all are simply dismissed and treated with condescension by the formal art authorities.”
I ended by saying: “I am not alone. I stand with hundreds, if not thousands, of like-minded artists. And enough of us exist to justify our own personal periodical (Juxtapoz magazine), which stands third in all art magazine sales.”
The interview is excerpted from Robert Williams’ “Dumbing Down to Da Vinci,” originally published in Kirsten Anderson’s Pop Surrealism: The Rise of Underground Art. Published online on Chris Peters’ site.
In an interview with Myartspace, Kirsten Anderson discusses the difference between Low Brow and Pop Surrealist art: “To me—Lowbrow art is what the scene originally started as … work that stayed true to it’s [sic] more ‘working class roots’ more or less, and focused on the fetishization of counter-cultural icons (such as hot rods, surfing, rock n roll, monsters, drugs, ect [sic]). I find this work to be more transgressive, provocative and very non-polite … it has a purity underneath because it was never intended to be anything other than what the artist was responding to in his or her life. I can’t see this type of work ever truly being accepted by the ‘high’ world. To understand more of the genesis of where Lowbrow came from I recommend reading Larry Reid’s essay in Pop Surrealism.
“As time went on and interest and inspiration of this art started to grow, new artists began to appear and they often brought a more ‘refined’ sensibility to the genre. Also—the artists who’d been working in the scene started to grow and explore as well. A good example of this is someone like Mark Ryden being so quickly embraced. Artists started working with more fantastical imagery and the work started to become more dream-like and surreal, and personal. The work started to become more ‘beautiful’ and have more palatable imagery. To me, this new form of work is ‘Pop Surrealism’—I would use Ryden, Marion Peck, Alex Gross, and Eric White as examples of what I’m talking about. If you compare their work with artists who I would put in the ‘Lowbrow’ genre like Anthony Ausgang, the Pizz, XNO, Van Arno, and Shag you can see that they are very different.
“So to me there is a division, but a very fluid division. Now with street art infiltrating the scene you have even more fluidity, with artists like Jeff Soto rising to prominence within the genre, who can cross back and forth between Pop Surrealism and Street Art easily. Also—Juxtapoz has seemingly morphed itself into a street art magazine and I think that causes the lines to blur further. Collectors who buy Shag might also buy Anthony Micallef.
“Lastly, there has been an implosion of new galleries who show this kind of work but who might not have a real understanding of how this scene originated. They are just showing stuff they like, which is fine, but now anyone can be a ‘pop surrealist artist these days. I’m not even sure that the term has any real meaning anymore. The galleries (myself included) will show Audrey Kawasaki or people like Jonathan Viner … they are not ‘Pop Surrealism’ nor ‘Lowbrow’—they are just very good contemporary figurative art, but they still fall into that scene.”
You can read Kirsten Anderson’s original interview here.