What is Lowbrow Art, Who Makes it and Where Can it Be Found?

By | 11:11 PM
There is a visual art movement on the rise that is made up of artists who are not concerned with whether The Art World recognizes their art. The main defining characteristic of Lowbrow art is that most people generally do consider it art. Lowbrow refers to underground, tattoo, comic, cartoon or street art. In the midst of this relatively new art period there are still critics who choose to largely ignore Lowbrow art. Ironically, Lowbrow being deemed as a legitimate movement has been decided by The Art World. It has garnered the attention of many art collectors who understand the way an emerging art tends to transition from thumbing its nose at fine art to it itself becoming fine art.

Impressionism, Dada, Expressionism, Surrealism, and Fauvism progressed in a similar manner as Lowbrow finds itself in progress today. Traditional art critics in Europe literally lowered their brows at the French Impressionists.  These same people rejected the work of Van Gogh.  During the modern art movement at the start of the 20th century Dadaists found acceptance by the curated art world and became highly promoted.

Rat Fink, At the Harrah's Auto Collection essay
 Photo Credit: Nick Ares
CC BY-SA 2.0
In the 1990s artist Robert Williams founded the Juxtapoz art magazine showcasing Lowbrow artists. Prior to that, Lowbrow art can be traced to the hot rod and surf cultures in Southern California creating Rat Fink and Kustom Kulture in the late 1950s. During the 1960s, Lowbrow underground Comix like Zap were conceived. Over the years, Lowbrow has taken on many influences from pop culture such as psychedelic art and punk rock culture. With what is referred to as Retro, Lowbrow artists are keeping the legacy of the 20th century alive. Most lowbrow artworks are 2D, yet there are also sculptures and art toys - notably the customized vinyl toys.

Lowbrow artists typically poke fun at convention. Perhaps taking a cue from Pablo Picasso:

 "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,"

...they know the "rules" of art, and purposefully choose to break them.  If you have a sense of humor, then there is something from the Lowbrow movement for you.  Humor is always present whether in a joyous, childish or sarcastic manner. Lowbrow art is commonly labeled in various different ways: underground, urban, Kulture, Neo-Pop, anti-establishment, pop surrealism, visionary, alternative and even "Nobrow."

APExpo 2010 014.jpg
   Alternative Press Expo 2010 in San Francisco, California
Photo Credit: Guillaume Paumier  CC BY-SA 2.0
The critical mainstream art galleries tend to not embrace Lowbrow art. There are a growing number of exceptions to this being seen on exhibition most notably in Los Angeles and South Florida. Comic Con conventions which travel from city to city feature "Artists' Alley" sections featuring artists working with comic, sci-fi and other pop-culture influenced art. Alternative Press Expo organizes with Comic Con.

Staple! Independent Media Event in Austin, Texas, Anissa Bryant
Staple! 2014 in Austin, Texas,
Photo credit: Anissa Bryant
Staple!a strictly indie-focused exhibition in Austin, Texas has been held annually since 2005. Its founder and lead organizer Chris “Uncle Staple” Nicholas makes it a point to highlight the creators of alternative comics, webcomics, zines, fan art, toys, crafts, games, animation and graphic arts without having to compete with celebrity appearances and "special reveals" of the more mainstream Lowbrow art events. Nicholas founded the Southwest's Staple! convention for both professional and amateur independent artists,

 "a showcase for the folks who publish comics and zines and possible literary masterworks out of their own apartments."

What qualifies as Lowbrow currently includes a wide variety of artists all concentrated into one. Currently a Lowbrow artist who designs decals may be sanctioned in the same category with an artist who creates technically skilled urban murals. With time sorting different sub-classifications within the art movement itself should be expected to occur. At the present it is time to notice and begin collecting Lowbrow art to celebrate the time period from the late 50s to now to be able to pass the art and its story on to future generations.
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Paul Graham said...

I am a fan of much lowbrow art .The Picasso reference is a good one since Pablo practiced what he preached, being an exceptional 'conventional ' creator in some ways validated his avant garde work. Many low brow artists could succeed with conventional approaches but simply choose not to. And ever shall it be so.

Rebecca said...

Very good points, Paul. That you said lowbrow artists "simply choose" is spot on, as freedom to choose how they go about art seems to be at the core of the movement. Thanks for your comment.