Do you also feel confused about the definition of Lowbrow Art?
We’re here to help!
Lowbrow Art (also sometimes known as Pop Surrealism, Nobrow/Newbrow or sometimes simply Underground) is a bastard genre of art, a movement and a lifestyle, with a dedicated global fanbase and a rich, complicated history.
Lowbrow originates from Southern California, from the hotrod racing scene, where artists such as Ed “Big Daddy” Roth (creator of Rat fink, the legendary unofficial mascot of Lowbrow art) would sell air brushed t-shirt designs at car shows. Soon it was seen everywhere, from rockposters and albumcovers to underground Comix.
The implicit Fuck the Established Society, that always comes with Lowbrow Art, has been a spot on attitude for many different subcultures ever since.
The era that it all sprung from, the late 50s, is ever present and visible in pin up culture, retro furniture and kitchen appliances, rockerbilly fashion, tiki art, hotrods and pinstriping. But other elements from pop culture such as science fiction, horror movies, tv series, Japanese anime and so much more, gets sucked into Lowbrow.
The term Lowbrow, comes from Phsyiognomy, a moronic and antiquated theory, in which you can determine intelligence (and how likely someone is of committing a crime or be a sexual deviant) by how low someone’s brow is set in their face.
A defining characteristic of Lowbrow art is the underlaying working class/blue collar vibe and using a term that screams we’re from the wrong side of the tracks and super dumb, is of course both ironic and very liberating.
Robert Williams, without question one of the greatest and most acclaimed Lowbrow artist of all times (and founder of Juxtapoze magazine), is also reason why the movement is called Lowbrow Art in the first place, he coined the expression with the book The Lowbrow Art of Robert Williams, in 1979.
One of the things we love about Lowbrow art is how utilitarian it is. Lowbrow art spans from the world of tattoo, to comics to commercials to fine arts. It’s cars and motorcycles, paintings, posters, t-shirts, stickers, toys and so much more. Really, it’s impossible to think of any other type of art that would allow for such a huge playing field. Furthermore it’s accessible for everyone- you don’t need to have years of training or an appreciation of classic art. You just need to be there and have some good, old fun while doing the work!
The defining characteristics of Lowbrow Art are tricky to pinpoint because the scope of it is so huge, but if you were to force us this is what we would say:
- A sense of humor; It might be very dark, it could be sarcastic or just plain primitive, but it’s always present and an important element
- There’s often some sort of narrative. It’s not necessarily an obvious one, but there will probably be some indication that there’s something dynamic in the piece, that you might have to look for
- A retrovibe and icons from pop culture
- Above all, Lowbrow art is a massive fuck you to the established art community. Lowbrow artists will create art that’s too retro or too commercial, too focused on popular culture, too repulsive to look at and too far out. Hopefully, to the end of time.
Generally Lowbrow Art is not really recognized as an established art, but important people say, that the art community is about to come around. But to us, that’s hardly the point. Lowbrow art has always been an underground movement and it’s hard to imagine anyone from the community rooting for it to become something other than that.
Photo above: Italian Lowbrow Artist Blaster painting a Ratfink on a motorcycle helmet in the documentary Flake & Flames. Photo by Pixeleye