Lowbrow, or lowbrow art, describes an underground visual art movement that arose in the Los Angeles, California, area in the late 1970s It is a populist art movement with its cultural roots in underground comix, punk music, and hot-rod cultures of the street It is also often known by the name pop surrealism Lowbrow art often has a sense of humor – sometimes the humor is gleeful, sometimes impish, and sometimes it is a sarcastic comment

Most lowbrow artworks are paintings, but there are also toys, digital art, and sculpture

Some of the first artists to create what came to be known as lowbrow art were underground cartoonists like Robert Williams and Gary Panter Early shows were in alternative galleries in New York and Los Angeles such as Psychedelic Solutions Gallery in Greenwich Village, New York City which was run by Jacaeber Kastor, La Luz de Jesus run by Billy Shire and 01 gallery in Hollywood, run by John Pochna The movement steadily grew from its beginning, with hundreds of artists adopting this style As the number of artists grew, so did the number of galleries showing Lowbrow; Most likely the first formal art gallery to take low brow art seriously was the The Julie Rico Gallery in Santa Monica with the one-man show “Looney Virtues”, in 1992 by artist Anthony Ausgang The Bess Cutler Gallery also went on to show important artists and helped expand the kind of art that was classified as Lowbrow The lowbrow magazine Juxtapoz by Robert Williams, first published in 1994, has been a mainstay of writing on lowbrow art and has helped direct and grow the movement

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Writers have noted that there are now distinctions to be drawn between how lowbrow manifests itself in different regions and places Some see a distinct US “west coast” lowbrow style, which is more heavily influenced by underground comix and hot rod car-culture than elsewhere As the lowbrow style has spread around the world, it has been intermingled with the tendencies in the visual arts of those places in which it has established itself As lowbrow develops, there may be a branching (as there was with previous art movements) into different strands and even whole new art movements

Lowbrow is also commonly referred to as pop surrealism The term “pop surrealism” was coined by The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum for its 1998 exhibit of the same name The exhibit featured work by over seventy artists, including Gregory Crewdson, Mariko Mori, Ashley Bickerton, Art Spiegelman, Tony Oursler, and Cindy Sherman, and was memorialized in the 1999 book of the same name Reviewing the exhibition for ArtForum, Steven Henry Madoff wrote: “The mutant sensibility at work in this droll, smartly curated exhibition proposes the marriage of Surrealism’s dream-laden fetish for the body eroticized and grotesque and Pop art’s celebration of the shallower, corrosively bright world given over the packaged good” The New York Times said of the exhibit “at first, Surrealism and popular culture would seem to be oil and water Surrealism mines dreams and the unconscious, while popular culture is concerned with surface and commonplaces But in recent years they have been brought together in exhibitions concerned with proving that High and Low are related” Kirsten Anderson, who edited a second book called Pop Surrealism, considers lowbrow and pop surrealism to be related but distinct movements However, Matt Dukes Jordan, author of Weirdo Deluxe, views the terms as interchangeable

Museums, art critics, mainstream galleries, etc, have been uncertain as to the status of lowbrow in relation to the fine art world, and today it has been largely excluded – although this has not stopped some collectors from buying the works Some art critics doubt that lowbrow is a “legitimate” art movement, and there is thus very little scholarly critical writing about it The standard argument of critics is that critical writing arises naturally from within an art movement first, and then a wider circle of critics draws upon this writing to inform their own criticism This apparent absence of internal critical writing may be because many lowbrow artists began their careers in fields not normally considered fine art, such as illustration, tattooing and comic books Many lowbrow artists are self-taught, which further alienates them from the world of museum curators and art schools