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.)
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His new book is Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects