Highbrow, Lowbrow... Middlebrow. Is Art a matter of eyebrow?
The lowbrow term has been used by the Seattle's gallerist Kirsten Anderson in order to give a name to that movement, until then indefinite, of artists considered of low profile by the art system. The term was coined in opposition to highbrow, that metaphorically defines something of highly cultural profile (from the snobbery way to raise an eyebrow, weighing one's own culture over the others). Thus Lowbrow Art defines that underground artistic movement of popular descent, little interested to an intellectual involvement with the high culture or the fine arts, and which rather finds its own origins in the culture of comic strips, Punk, Street and Graffiti Art, often borrowing the subjects which are often very hard. We are talking about a populist movement enumerating a large number of practisers and a wide and hardly catalogable production. Maybe for these reasons, Lowbrow Art is not taken in good consideration by the art system and the critics, who have to do with outsider artists characterized by the multiform and uncontrollable vulgarization of the expressive languages, which, being extraneous to the academic world, result hardly understandable. But, may it exist an Art which is “in” or “out”? Creating an artistic apartheid, it would approve the idea that Art must be subdued to restricting parameters, either technical skill or academic coherence. It is not so: Art is in primis a way to communicate feelings and concepts that could not be expressed otherwise; the manner and the technique are just of secondary importance. On the other hand, also the Lowbrow movement does not like the hegemony of critics and art system dominated by marketing logics. Nevertheless, few years after the birth of Lowbrow, to be considered artists of low cultural profile became undesirable to some, therefore the movement evolved in the more qualifying Pop Surrealism.
Although interchangeable with Lowbrow, Pop Surrealism is sometimes visually sweetened and gentle, therefore more proper for a vast public in comparison to the sometimes scabrous subjects of the first, anyway preserving the eccentric thematics of it, which are represented with a pompous imaginary that recalls Gothic or Victorian style. Even technical skill gets greater attention in comparison to Lowbrow, up to assume the varnished clearness of the illustration, but always preserving a naïve appearance, often representing super deformed or boterian figures. The style and the subjects of Pop Surrealism are often conformed to an almost monolithic collective mannerism that makes the artists adopting it sometimes very similar.
A certain degree of mannerism is the evidence of a transitory phenomenon tied to the fashion of an epoch, this is to say, to a contemporary stylistic palette. But rising upon the manner's appearance and looking at the contents in a more historicized and general context, we can ascertain the evidence of a fact: what the contemporary fashion before calls it Lowbrow and then Pop Surrealism is always that same Art of populist and naïf kind that exists since ever and with time changes only its shape. In the XIX century it was the Art Naïve of Camille Bombois and Antonio Ligabue, then it was the Primitive Art of Alfred Wallis, the Art Brut of Jean Dubuffet and the Raw Art, the Outsider Art, the Graffiti Art and the Hip-Hop culture of Basquiat and Banksy; all variations of the great revolution celebrated by the Pop Art, or Popular Art. It is that one that made its way on its own legs, because it is promoted by critics and the art system only when it is already acclaimed; that one wrongly considered outsider, because universal and accessible.
Mary, self-taught Artist, uses the visual syntaxes typical of Naïf and of Expressionism, she has a spontaneous personality, strengthened by the culture of Nature that she engraves in her paintings together with a sensibility acquired with the individual experiences, positive or negative that they may have been: in the paintings are living subjects from an imaginary which is personal as much as intercultural and unexpectedly actual, expressed with lines and colours that return up to certain juvenile manners typical of Street Art and Hip-Hop culture. Besides the vibrating and aesthetical impact free from conventions, a parallel cultural and spiritual dimension is found, a dreamed vision of the reality that can be synthesized in a word: idyll.
Also Abramo 'Tepes' Montini is a self-taught Artist. His expression, even overlapping to the stylistic elements and the kitsch taste proper of Pop Surrealism, has an unmistakable Dark Pop style: the subjects are slight and in the meantime distressing, almost nightmares, with that surreal aura typical of dreams. His paintings seem to come upon in the dark of sleep, originating from the depths of the conscience; they bring afloat some fragments, like finds submerged and forgotten in the abyss of psyche. These disquieting finds do not emerge for the simple purpose to disturb the observer, and not even for an apotropaic purpose; on the contrary because they are the human anguishes that the dualist society tries to bury under a blanket of hypocrisy and do-goodism. They set the observer in front of a magic mirror that reflects the most concealed and denied recesses of the soul.
Camille Bombois Laveuses bretonnes Oil on canvas, 92 x 65 cm
Antonio Ligabue Autoritratto con mosca Oil on canvas, 70 x 50 cm
Philip Guston Sleeping, 1977 Oil on canvas 213.4 x 175.3 cm
Naoto Hattori Venus, 2005 Acrylic on board 10 x 20 cm
Mark Chueh Deliquescent, 2009 Acrylic and ink 76 x 61 cm
Ron English Batman Robin, 2002 Oil on canvas
Gary Baseman The Skeleton Girl, 2009 Acrylic on board 61 x 46 cm
Marco Demis Il pavone la teiera e la bambina, 2011 Oil on canvas 100 x 100 cm
Ray Ceasar Sunday, 2011 Ultrachrome print on Dibond 61 x 61 cm