Thursday, June 26, 2008
Near the intersection of Seaside’s Fremont Boulevard and Hilby Avenue, sitting discreetly behind a 7-11, a plain building is quietly acting as a magnet for a meteor shower of art that is anything but quiet, plain or discreet.
Opened last month, Scott Grover’s new Alternative Café houses an art gallery with a fresh vision, a café that uses beans and machines from Seaside’s Acme Coffee, and an artistically inclined gift shop.
On Friday, June 27, the smart space will host , an ambitious exhibit featuring the works of an art movement that has, in the past 30 or so years, helped reshape the cultural landscape. But according to Grover, although the art is now ubiquitous, not many people know the name of the movement.
“It started in the ’70s with the book ,” Grover says.
From that seminal book, the name “Lowbrow” was extracted and affixed to a subset of art that grew out of underground comix, rock posters, psychedelic and surreal art, Pop Art and hot rod culture. Early proponents included , Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, Robert Crumb, Manuel Ocampo and others.
Tanem Davidson, an artist and Monterey resident since 2004, directed the exhibit’s companion documentary, .
“Lowbrow was in opposition to highbrow, conceptual stuff,” says Davidson. In 1994 Robert Williams and others at the scene’s epicenter in Los Angeles founded what would become the bible of Lowbrow and one of the top art magazines in the world, .
Over the years, the movement absorbed more components of pop culture: Japanese animé, digital art, skateboarding, graffiti, hip-hop, tattoos, toys, video games and indie/DIY music.
As a genre, Lowbrow is urban, visceral, accessible, pictorial, sometimes disturbing, and often beautiful. Van Arno’s work, for instance, consists of colorful, fleshy nudes engaged in violent and politically symbolic acts, under the banner of provocative names like “Mata Hari, Tank Buster!” and “Mexica Cannot be Roused to Fight.”
Though established galleries, curators and critics snubbed its youthful zeal and questioned their artistic merits, Lowbrow artists have tried to bridge the divide between the elitist art world and art for the masses. They dabble freely with mass production, advertising, toys, T-shirts, movies, album covers and accessories.
Grover is executive producer for the film. A test screening will be held Friday at Golden State Theatre after the opening reception for the Alternative Café’s art exhibit, also called , curated by Justin Giarla of San Francisco’s The Shooting Gallery.
“Everyone in the art opening is in the film,” says Grover, but the film contains many more luminaries, like reps from and L.A.’s Roq La Rue gallery, artists Camille Rose Garcia, Van Arno, Paul Chatem and Anthony Ausang– the last three of whom are expected to attend. Andrew Jackson’s former Outer Edge Gallery (“They were first to show this kind of stuff locally,” says Grover), and Pacific Grove’s Chris Delaney, owner of Hula’s Island Grill and Tiki Room and a Lowbrow art collector, are also in the film. For now.
“This is a test screening,” says Grover. “It’s not the final cut; it’s a work in progress.”
“The audience will have input, a chance to be part of the making of the film,” says Davidson. “It’s still an independent, no-budget feature.” He plans to submit to the Sundance Film Festival in September. “There will be [soundtrack] music by unsigned bands like Halos, Sugar and Gold, Matt the Electrician– he graduated from P.G. High. Maybe the Darktown Rounders.”
As for Alternative Café, Grover is positioning it to be a hub for this brand of art between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“In L.A. I’d be one of 50 stores like this,” says Grover, a longtime Peninsula resident. “Here, we’re one of a kind. Plus, the people [here] deserve to be exposed to this kind of art.”
Many Lowbrow artists are self taught and work in commercial enterprises while galleries vacillate about giving them shows. Hence, Shepard Fairey’s striking portrait poster for Barack Obama, graffiti artist David Choe’s work for Converse, and G4 Television’s promos are defined by Lowbrow art.
These artists offer the latest evidence that Lowbrow has risen from the underground and fixed itself on the art landscape.
NEW BROW EXHIBIT opening reception takes place Friday, June 27, 6-9pm, at Alternative Café, 1230 Fremont Blvd., Seaside. Free. 583-0913. It’s followed by the New Brow documentary test screening at 10pm, at Golden State Theatre, 414 Alvarado St., Monterey. $10/film. 372-4555.