Sir Barken Hyena writes:
Following up from my last post about the Left Coast art world, here’s a decent documentary about the pivotal figure, Robert Williams, founder of the Low Brow, or Pop Surrealist art movement. The film gets off to a rather rocky and formless start, with many of the usual stylistic tics that get under the skin of people over the age of, say, 40 or so. (No, not everything needs to move all of the time!). But, that aside, and it’s something that’s not specific to or even egregious in this particular film, we get a good grounding in just who this Mr Bitchin’ is and why we should care, even if we find his paintings a bit, you know, repulsive.
Williams himself is an engaging and affable presence, a downright fun guy, and clearly loves a bit of rowdy fun as you can see from his pranksterish and uninhibited artwork. He’s also quite articulate, and explains his art in clear terms, quite unlike the academic nonsense that mars the contempo art world (see Worry Rug I).
And he’s defiant! He makes no attempt to conceal his contempt for the elite art world of Manhattan one-percenters, while also clearly wanting acceptance and success in worldly terms. But he did it all his way, starting from humble origins. First making his mark as an illustrator for hot rod magazines and joining the late ’60s underground comics movement as a founder, all the while he worked in his spare time on fine art canvases, painted with the classic methods of the Old Masters. He never bought into the conceptual and minimalist styles that have dominated the last half century, frankly flipping it the bird and going his own way.
Falling in with the L.A. punk scene of the late ’70s, he started selling paintings outside of the established venues, in the essence of the punk DIY spirit. From here his influence really kicked in and he became the founder of a movement, and the publisher of its flagship magazine Juxtapoz (now by far the best selling art magazine in the US). This is directly acknowledged in the film by (the incredible) Mark Ryden, who simply states “I wouldn’t be an artist except for Robert Williams.” Well now, enough said.
It’s fun to see that Williams has gotten some of the mainstream acceptance he wants (I guess even the NYC art establishment doesn’t want to make a total joke of itself, despite their best efforts) and yet he kind of shrugs it off, skipping the opening for the 2010 Whitney Biennial that finally included his work.
But the best bird flipping of all comes at the very end of the movie, when Williams is asked if he is happy…he pauses a moment, then says simply “Yes, I am.” How radical can you get!
Mr Bitchin’ is available streaming on YouTube or from Amazon Prime, and here are a few examples of Mr Bitchin’s paintings: