Thursday, November 01, 2007

Rethinking Lowbrow

(Above: Gajin Fujita, Redlight District)

I've had the entire month of October to examine and rethink my position on Juxtapoz and the Lowbrow movement. I suppose I must have sounded like a parrot, or atleast a prude, when I joined the dozens of "establishment" voices in opposition to the Juxtapoz aesthetic. Although I haven't completely reversed my position, I can finally look at the magazine with a fresh pair of eyes.

I believe it was was the image on p.85 of October's Juxtapoz that really turned my head. There was something in Fujita's mounted samurai that was austere yet electrifying and powerfully fresh yet at same time intensely bound to tradition. I was confronted by that quietly explosive image of bushido rendered in cobalt and crimson spray paint. The piece successfully married the sensibilities of modern graffiti, Ukyo woodblock prints, and if my instincts serve me well, the equestrian tradition of Mongolian painting.

Lowbrow, as identified with Juxtapoz founder Robert Williams, poses a number of unique questions today. Can Lowbrow retain its momentum as a force of change within the arts community when it has certainly outgrown its roots as an isolated, underground movement? In what ways can artists reconcile personal and local identities with an increasingly global culture? In what ways can artists appropriate imagery from graffiti and pop culture in historically meaningful ways?

After just a little reflection, I can see clearly that Lowbrow has accomplished a very, very important task. The space has widened for more people to participate in creating and appreciating art than ever before. And the best part is we don't have to be filthy rich to get inside.

At the same time, the people entering the arts community today are members of a very different generation than Williams, R. Crumb, and the other Zap Comix contributors of the 1960s and early 70s. The questions posed by Lowbrow have existed for several decades, and the cultural terrain continues to change right underneath our feet. It's the ground we've inherited, and I believe we have the power to decide what that means.



Fifth said...

I'm looking forward to arguing about this.

Also, I need to borrow a few pounds of your old magazines.

mike said...

Well put. I'm prepared to argue about this as well. Or perhaps this is already a response to me defending Juxtapoz.