From comic book and hot rod culture to folk art and religious iconography to cartoons and retro pop imagery -- and let's not forget punk rock -- the "lowbrow" art movement has many inspirations. Billy Shire's La Luz De Jesus Gallery is widely recognized as a seminal hub for talents whose works fall under this audacious umbrella and now, after 25 years, the artists he's nurtured have gone on to be recognized by the fine art world as well.
One is example is La Luz mainstay Robert Williams, who is said to have coined the term "lowbrow art" back in 1979 (for a book featuring his paintings). We've always felt the label was somewhat patronizing and definitely too general for works that cover so much ground.
At the press preview last night for the gallery's vast retrospective exhibit, "La Luz de Jesus 25," this was more than true. So varied and individual and massive is the collection, Shire split it into two parts. Part 1, featuring artists from the gallery's early days is up now; part 2 featuring later La Luz luminaries will be displayed in a forthcoming show.
A gorgeous companion book, which, like the exhibit, features images from essentially every artist who's ever had a show at La Luz, is part of the celebratory offerings. With so many of the artists in attendance signing each other's books last night, the preview party felt like the day the high school yearbooks come out. The signed books are quite a keepsake, especially for those who admire the works on display but can't afford the price tags.
It's telling of lowbrow's increasing profile in the art world that most pieces ain't cheap (and most are sold). Like Williams, many La Luz discoveries (Frank Kozik, Mark Ryden, Matt Groening, Shag, Sam Doyle, Elizabeth McGrath, Tony Fitzpatrick, Chris Mars, Mark Mothersbaugh, Gary Panter, John de Fazio, Laurie Lipton, Clayton Brothers, Calef Brown and Gary Baseman to name a few) have achieved a notable level of success and recognition.
"Underground art," "pop surrealism" or the "bowel movement" -- that's what Shire joked when we asked him about terms and labels for what he's been showcasing the past 25 years. He actually prefers "narrative-figurative." Call it what you will, this anything-but-highbrow art, along with its provocative purveyors, will always find something fun to be inspired by. In turn, their creations will continue to inspire as well. Here's hoping La Luz will be around for many more years to let them do so.
Opening receptions for Part 1 of "La Luz de Jesus 25" are tonight, Oct. 7 and tomorrow, Oct. 8, 8-11 p.m. Part 2 openings Nov. 4-5.
More info and full artist list at the La Luz De Jesus website.
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