John Boylan’s Next Conversation, Tuesday, January 20 at Vermilion Gallery, 1508 11th Avenue on Seattle’s Capitol Hill.
This time we’re tackling two highly energetic and powerful worlds of art: pop surrealism and lowbrow art. And as guests we have two legendary players on the Seattle scene. Read on for details.
The Guests (see bios below.)
Kirsten Anderson, owner and founder, Roq la Rue Gallery
Larry Reid, curator and events coordinator, Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery
We’re looking at two art movements that have long been intertwined: pop surrealism and lowbrow art. Both share a deep humor and irreverence, along with a passion for stretching the limits of illustration—and representation in general—to places where the conventions of such drawing and painting don’t generally go. But if both share a sensibility, they also diverge deeply.
I won’t recount the history of lowbrow, as in the early days of Robert Williams, the horizon-bending work of underground comix, and the hot rod art of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth. Wikipedia provides a basic intro. Suffice it to say that lowbrow begins as an amalgam of comics, album covers, tattoos, California car and surf cultures, and film noir. But it has always stretched these modes, reinventing them, taking them new places. One good way to get a sense of vividness of lowbrow is to look at the work of Robert Williams.
One of the fascinating things about lowbrow is its deep relationship with many other trends in the past fifty years, including punk rock, Chicano art, street art, graffiti. And the attendant cultures are cultures of immersion, for both artists and the audiences: tattooing, cars, comics.
Pop surrealism shares a lot with lowbrow, but has its own vocabulary, its own style. As the name suggests, it builds on the mystery and strange juxtapositions of surrealism, filtered through modes of pop culture, especially commercial illustration. Pop surrealism is about fantasy, but not the fantasy of sword and sorcery and dragons. Rather, here is the fantasy of the irrational, of dreams, of playful weirdness, carefully and often darkly rendered.
Maybe the best way to get a sense of pop surrealism is to take a look at, say, the work Femke Hiemstra or Peter Ferguson or Mark Ryden. The differences from Robert Williams are evident, but there are odd commonalities as well.
We have only two guests this time, and that’s intentional. Between them, Larry Reid and Kirsten Anderson have both played impressive roles in the culture of Seattle. Reid has long been a curator, writer, advocate, and instigator in Seattle, goes back to co-founding the famous Rosco Louis Gallery in the 1970s and the wild days of CoCA in the 1980s. Anderson founded Roq la Rue 16 years ago, focusing on pop surrealism and later broadening to cover a range of contemporary art. In those years, she has been a prominent writer, publisher, and curator in the field.
The Guests in Detail
Kirsten Anderson opened Roq la Rue Gallery in 1998 after curating several highly successful group art shows in various locations in Seattle. In addition to curating and running the gallery, she edited and co-published the landmark book Pop Surrealism: The Rise of Underground Art, which was the first survey of the art movement, in 2004.
She served as the “Editor At Large” at Hi Fructose Art magazine for seven years (until stepping down to focus on other projects in 2014), where she wrote about art and artists integral to the Pop Surrealism/New Contemporary scene as well as major players in the international contemporary art world. She occasionally writes for other publications about art and lectures about the history and current state of Pop Surrealism/New Contemporary and the artists affiliated with the genre. She is regarded as an authority on the main tenets and history of the genre, as well as having a discerning eye for discovering new talent.
Larry Reid has been an advocate for challenging visual and performing arts in the Pacific Northwest and beyond since co-founding Rosco Louie gallery in Seattle’s Pioneer Square in 1978. He has since served as director of Graven Image gallery and the Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA), and as curator for Experience Music Project (EMP) and Fantagraphics Books.
Over the course of his career he has presented the work of countless regional, national and international artists including Lynda Barry, Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol, Nirvana, William S. Burroughs, Robert Crumb, Lydia Lunch, Ann Magnuson, Chuck Close, Keith Haring, Sonic Youth, Mike Kelley, Karen Finley, Eric Bogosian, Charles Peterson, Einsturzende Neubauten, Von Dutch, Henry Rollins, Daniel Clowes, Gary Panter, Mudhoney, and many more. He has served as a peer panelist for various private foundations and public agencies including the National Endowment for the Arts (1990). He has contributed to several books including Pop Surrealism: The Rise of Underground Art, Edward Colver: Blight at the End of the Funnel, Tiki Art Now!, Jini Dellaccio: Rock & Roll, and Sub Pop USA: 1980 – 1987.
Reid currently works as curator and events coordinator at Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery in Seattle’s historic Georgetown arts community, where he also serves as president of the Georgetown Merchants Association (GMA) and co-chairs the Greater Duwamish District Council (GDDC).