Exhibition Preview: Pop Surrealism
Presented by Alexandra Mazzanti and Gianluca Marziani
In collaboration with Dorothy Circus Gallery (Rome) and Jonathan LeVine Gallery (New York)
Museum Carandente, Spoleto, Italy
26th June to 15th October 2010
By Guy Sangster Adams
“Landscapes, bodies, animals, history, nature, objects: this is the world reinterpreted by Pop Surrealism,” say Alexandra Mazzanti and Gianluca Marziani in describing their current exhibition, and continue evocatively, “a no-space where everything looks like the real thing, but where we perceive suspended atmospheres, a sense of agonizing waiting and silent doubt and danger, where abnormal silences or strange noises are coming.”
Depending on one’s point of view, Pop Surrealism is either interchangeable with Lowbrow art, or a separate but closely related movement. The term Lowbrow was coined by painter and cartoonist, Robert Williams, for the title of his influential 1979 book, The Lowbrow Art of Robt Williams, which collected all his paintings to date. Following its publication, as Barret S. Bingham writes on Williams’s website, “the seminal elements of West Coast Outlaw Culture slowly started to aggregate,” or to put it another way, a new art movement was born. A style of art that Williams has described as, “cartoon-tainted abstract surrealism.”
In 1965, having pursued a career as a fine artist, Williams had joined the studio of Ed Roth, Rat Fink creator and legendary figure in California’s hot-rod and Kustom Kulture, and his work was influenced not only by this, but also by the underground comix culture which he became part of in 1968, when he joined the San Francisco based, Zap Comix Collective, whose number also included highly influential underground artists Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton. These influences fused with inspirations from film noir and apocalyptic, and from across a subcultural breadth including psychedelia, and punk rock, to inform Lowbrow art, though equally earlier art movements, particularly Dadaism and American Regionalism.
In 1994, Williams founded the magazine, Juxtapoz, which has gone on to be one of highest circulation art magazines in the USA. Juxtapoz has played a key role in championing the new American art scene, both through celebrating and helping to define Lowbrow and Pop Surrealism, whilst also embracing and showcasing the work of diverse range of urban and contemporary underground artists, across a multitude of genres, such as neo-figurative, street art, pervasive art, which have mushroomed through the 1990s and into the 2000s.
The impressive and exciting line-up of forty international artists that Alexandra Mazzanti and Gianluca Marziani have gathered for the first exhibition to provide an overview of Pop Surrealism are no strangers to the pages of Juxtapoz. They include husband and wife, Mark Ryden and Marion Peck, Joe Sorren, Todd Schorr, Shepard Fairey, Ron English, Gary Baseman, Sas Christian, Ray Caesar, and the leading Italian proponents of the style, Nicoletta Ceccoli and Niba (for a full list of participating artists scroll down). The exhibition features more than eighty works from the participating artists, works which Mazzanti neatly encapsulates as:
“The confusing and hallucinated psychic automatisms of the surrealist movement are now mixed with the American hot rod culture, underground comics and punk music, creating a perfect chaos , where absolute iconographic anarchy reigns . Pinups from the 50’s smile at a gothic Alice rival of Lolitas dancing softly to the songs of the Pixies and Cure. Scenarios inspired by Hieronymus Bosch are filled with strange animals, clumsy figures and comical demons. A paradoxical atmosphere with weird presences that reminds us of a David Lynch film, a multicultural melting pot: street culture, pure pop, bizarre illustration, manga culture, tattoo art. It’s everything that comes from videogames, indie music and sci-fi to strange multicoloured skulls celebrating the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos.”