Monday, February 23, 2009

What is Lowbrow Art?

In a comment on a recent post about artist Tara McPherson, Tom Jackson asked "What is Lowbrow art?"

First, a disclaimer: my formal training in art history and criticism consists entirely of one semester-long course in college. And that one ended in the Renaissance. I've managed to pick up a bit here and there about the Academic tradition and Art Deco, but I don't know much after 1940. So bear in mind the lack of expertise in this answer.

The Lowbrow art movement is about fifteen years old and is sometimes traced back to the founding of Juxtapoz magazine in 1994. This movement rejects the distinctions between the fine and commercial arts and the sense that the arts belong to a cultural aristocracy. It could be said to be related to folk art, except that its leaders have actual skill and training. Lowbrow is heavily influenced by pop culture and often exhibits a strong sense of humor and the macabre.

Here are some examples from artists sometimes identified with the Lowbrow movement.

Reading the Tea Leaves by Shag. Acrylic on panel, 2009.

Little Boy Blue by Mark Ryden. Oil on canvas, 2001.

Hope by Shepherd Fairey. Stencil and acrylic on paper, 2008. Now at the Smithsonian.

Pavilion of the Red Clown by Robert Williams.

Leave the Hair and Go Free by Amy Sol. Acrylic on wood panel, 2008.

Self-Defeating by Seonna Hong. Acrylic on canvas, 2007.


Tom Jackson said...


I get the feeling that one needs a very strong sense of irony to appreciate this; literal thinkers and photographic realists may have problems with it.

Tom Jackson said...

Hey, wait a minute. "Red Clown"? That's no way to talk about our new ... oh, never mind. Wrong picture.

John said...

Yes, very much so. I love the people in the photorealism movement, but they really need to remove the steel rods from their butts now and then.

the reverend mommy said...

I love Shag. His color sense is excellent.

Coop said...

Hi, I really like your blog and hope that this interests you and your readers

I am attempting to amass a large collection of portraits of Frankenstein's Monster in as many different styles and in as many different media as possible as an ongoing art project. The only stipulation is that the size is 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches (standard artist trading card size) and that each card has name, date, title and anything else you care to add on the back.

I welcome cards from both amateur and professional artists.

I will be leaving blank cards with instructions and mailing address in galleries, colleges, art shops, on buses, handing them out in the street and wherever else I can think of.

If you think you can spare the time to produce a little something, please send a portrait to:

A Patchwork Of Flesh
45 Silversea Drive
Westcliff on Sea
United Kingdom

Each card I receive will be uploaded at to produce an on-line gallery, I then hope to put on an exhibition of these cards in a gallery.

Karl Bakla said...

I've always enjoyed Robert Williams art, it always make me think "wow"

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