Sir Barken Hyena writes:
Now, having just had a nice rant about the “New York Art Scene” and implying that LA is so much better, a correction is in order: I don’t think any such thing, and I’m not in any position to make such judgements to begin with. I spent a few days bopping around each place seeing stuff, and I’m responding to some of what I saw. I’m just trying to illustrate a point here, not sum up these cities as cultural entities. And I don’t go for this coastal rivalry nonsense, I am proud as an American of both of these fine cities and visit them every chance I get, and find them both full of fine and interesting folks, and love them for their differences. I hear you can even get good tacos in NYC these days.
So much in the way of mea culpa. Los Angeles has historically positioned itself as an anti-New York, in addition to being the heartland of American pop culture, so I expected a lighter touch, and that’s what I saw. I visited Los Angeles this time with my daughter Lady Leonora Barken, who has ambitions in the arts, and great poise as well. We had a good time at the La Luz de Jesus gallery in Los Feliz, Vermont and Hollywood.
Pop culture figures and themes have been famously incorporated into fine art since the 50’s, and this has all been accepted by the art establishment. But the low brow art that emerged in the 70’s and 80’s did it the other way around: it brought fine art to pop culture. A prime mover here was Robert Williams, who began as an illustrator for hot rod magazines, was a key figure in the underground comics of the late sixties, and moved on to paint and canvas in the 1970s. He self consciously incorporated themes and techniques from the old masters into this pop culture low brow landscape, with spectacular and influential results. But Williams never stood on bended knee before the art establishment, begging acceptance for his innovations, and he sure as hell never got it. He just gave them the finger and went about his business.
That ethos was a natural fit for the early LA punks who found a kindred spirit in Williams. This genre spoke to an audience of its own, and moved on a path free from the constraints and poses of the contemporary art world. They could express what was absolutely off limits there: exuberant delight.
So we have a home grown movement in art, one of the few thriving new genres of the last 20 years or so, that has gotten virtually no recognition from the art establishment. Which is no surprise. What after all would they do with all of this unapproved exuberance and delight? Brilliant colors, dynamic compositions, painted and drawn with skill, wit and most of all a blazing sense of delight and fun. What good is this stuff in separating the one percenters from the hoi polloi? Where is the contempt of the common and low to elevate the expression? Where is the challenge to…to…I don’t know, the bourgeoisie or something?
One consequence is the lack of money in the low brow art world. Not a lot in the way of grant money seems to be flowing that way. At La Luz de Jesus were two paintings by prominent and established artists, Camille Rose Garcia and Shag, whose small works were priced at $3800 and $6000 respectively. Yes, they had price tags on them, and were hung in a hallway next to the toilet. I have no reason to think anyone minds this state of affairs, they seem to be having too much fun.