Road Trip Stop 3: Lowbrow Art Galleries, Los Angeles, California.

Ishkur, by Martin Wittfooth, 30" x 30", oil on panel. On exhibit at CoproGallery, Santa Monica, CA

I'm taking a road trip to points of interest in Southern California! The trip is being underwritten by Buick LaCrosse, which has also kindly provided me with the use of a Buick LaCrosse to drive during the tour. My first stop was the Griffith Observatory, in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. My second stop was to Coco's Variety in Silver Lake. The third leg of my trip takes me to lowbrow art galleries in Los Angeles.

One of the reasons I love Los Angeles so much is that it's the birthplace of my favorite kind of art -- the "lowbrow / pop surrealism" genre. Since I'm drawn to the sources that lowbrow artists look to for their inspiration -- hot rod and biker illustrations, monster and exploitation movies, science fiction pulps, sleazy magazines, lurid comic books, sailor tattoos, Tex Avery cartoons, and Polynesian pop -- it's only natural that I find the art they create to be appealing as well. A lot of people despise lowbrow, which makes me like it all the more. When New York Times art critic Grace Glueck called Mark Ryden a "relentless kitsch-meister," I began appreciating Ryden's work all the more, just as I'm sure admirers of abstract expressionism become even more fond of Cy Twombly's multi-million dollar masterpieces whenever uncultured hicks like me make fun of them.

A number of art galleries in Los Angeles deal in lowbrow art. The oldest is La Luz De Jesus Gallery, which was founded by Billy Shire in 1986 on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. Shire is credited with being the first art dealer to recognize the importance of artists such as Robert Williams, Big Daddy Roth, Von Dutch, Coop, and Todd Schorr. He has since moved the gallery to the corner of Hollywood and Vermont. Look for the colorful neon WACKO sign -- the gallery is in the back, behind an excellent selection of books, jewelry, and interesting curios for sale. (The same large room contains a third store, The Soap Plant, that sells lotions and toiletries.) Four artists are currently being shown here: Danni Shinya Luo, Kim Scott, Miran Kim, and Transmission Atelier (which just so happens to being selling its stunning prints of anatomical illustrations and old timey posters in the Boing Boing Bazaar).

CoproGallery, in the Bergamot Arts Complex in Santa Monica, was founded under the name Copro Nason in 1991 as a print publisher and museum show curator. They started their own gallery in 1999 and they've exhibited nearly every lowbrow luminary on Earth. The current exhibit has work by Martin Wittfooth (see above) and Chris Ryniak.

A relative newcomer on the scene is Corey Helford Gallery, founded in 2006 by Jan Corey and Bruce Helford. Located in Culver City, the attractive, two-story gallery is well-known for its festive art openings and top-notch artists. The surreal photo contructions of artist David Hochbaum, who combines photography with painting and other media, is currently on exhibit, and will be followed by a young artist named Lola.

Between now and April 3, California State University Northridge's art gallery is exhibiting lowbrow pioneer Robert Williams' show, "Conceptual Realism in the Service of the Hypothetical," featuring his paintings and sculptures.

(If you are interested in this kind of art and want to learn more, two magazines worth looking at are Juxtapoz and Hi-Fructose. Juxtapoz, being the older of the two magazines, is more old-school style lowbrow, while Hi-Fructose delves more into the pop surrealism side of the genre. There's plenty of overlap between the two, though.)


  1. I also love lowbrow art, but I hate Mark Ryden’s stuff, and most of the “Pop Surrealists.” I’m not passing judgment here, and I can’t quite say what I dislike about Ryden et al, but for me, at least, they don’t capture what’s enjoyable about true, lowbrow, “outsider” art.

  2. I live a five-minute walk from La Luz de Jesus / Wacko, and it’s always included in my LA tour for visitors.

    “Weirdo Deluxe: The Wild World of Pop Surrealism & Lowbrow Art” is a great book on the subject, and nearly all of the artists profiled live in LA. Seems to be out of print, but there are used copies on Amazon.

  3. I for one enjoy and celebrate the appreciation of illustrative and mad painting skills in Lowbrow (Mark Ryden inclusive- dang, that man knows oil paint!).

    with regards to Grace Glueck, I found the last line from her Ryden review to be especially -um…-evocative? To quote directly:

    “A dollop of Mr. Ryden’s drollery goes a very long way. Swallow quickly so you don’t taste it going down. GRACE GLUECK

  4. You should try the Museum of Jurassic Technology, on Venice Blvd in Culver City. It is chocked full of the unusual, including a portrait gallery of the dogs of the Soviet space program.

    1. Second that. The Museum of Jurassic Technology caught me totally off-guard the first time I visited, like a walking state of deja vu. And every return continues to be a surreal labyrinth. It deserves a spot light.

  5. I don’t really dig the lowbrow stuff, usually. The hot rod stuff especially; but whatever, it’s just not me.

    Still, I’ve got a pretty big soft spot for pointless stoner art. Look deep enough, and I bet you could make a decent argument relating a good high school stoner’s notebook and Cy Twombly– and I love his work!

  6. What I like about many of the Low Brow artists is the mastery they have over their techniques and materials. Todd Schorr, for example, can paint landscapes that look like something right out of the Hudson River School. But, being who he is, he sticks King Kong in the middle ground. It’s a great way of exhibiting his skill and thumbing his nose at the art historians’ established perception of “what art should or shouldn’t be.”

    I’ve been a fan of Hi Fructose for a couple of years. Annie and Attaboy’s unpretentious and obvious love and enthusiasm for the genre is contagious.

  7. Also check out the thinkspace gallery, it’s not to far from Wacko. It’s pretty small but they have lots of good stuff.

  8. Thanks so much for this entry. This coming week is full of “half days” at my daughter’s school (she’s in 4th grade). We’ll be popping on down and topping up on low brow culture. Thanks again!

  9. lowbrow schmobrow, who cares. The Buick Lacross is my favorite form of car. Lacross is French for “the cross”, it’s not an suv, and it’s not a normal car, but a “cross” of the 2 different kinds, rolled into one.

  10. Wow. That Slate “photoessay” refers to Walter Pater as a “gay Victorian aesthetician.”

    “Aesthete,” fellas. Not the same thing.

    1. I don’t know, but the opening moments of the music video for ‘Lean Like a Cholo’ was.

  11. Good for you for getting funding from Buick! Most writers should be so lucky. Your article is well-written. I’m more the high brow type but I can appreciate all the information here. Kudos!

  12. everyone has to checkout the real lowbrow art spot. known as the one and only GASOLINE located in El Segundo. CA . if you want the best lowbrow check them out

Comments are closed.