By Stacy Davies
As one of the flagrant and audacious answers to mainstream art, lowbrow reared its ugly, anti-social head in L.A.’s underground scene circa 1970. With a big, black-hearted love for cars, comix, dames and demons, lowbrow artists were rife with commentary on a culture they saw as insane and asinine, and their brow-beating punk and psychedelic-tinged sense of humor was as wry then as it is today.
Bent on keeping the masses up-to-date and in love with lowbrow, Baby Tattooville’s Bob Self has been putting on a massive shindig at the Mission Inn and concurrent exhibit at the Riverside Art Museum for three years running. It’s his way of paying homage to the pop surrealist greats such as Robert Williams, as well as the brethren who were influenced by Williams and continue to propagate the decadent lowbrow style.
Like a pop to the jaw, Michael Hussar’s dementedly delightful Sing Like Sinatra, is a monstrous oil of an obese, multi-pierced woman with fire hair and hands, belting out a tune (“I Did it My Way”?) perched on dainty feet—and it’s a real center stage piece. Backing up Hussar’s clear love of the grotesque is his Kill Baby Kill portrait of a clown bleeding out of his eyes, because, you know, regular clowns just aren’t scary enough.
Car artist Coop makes an appearance with his larger-than-life acrylics, Gun/Club/Punch (a crispy chromey purple Mustang with shadow driver) and Artist/Model, an acrylic and stencil seduction of a come-hither redhead and cigar smoking Satan.
R. Crumbian comix culture also paper the walls—most notably in Robert Williams’ works of hyper realist cataclysmic worlds like Exploration of the Sub-Conscious on I-40 where we dip into a daymare that includes a gal hanging from a cliff by her fingernails, a steroid dude shoving a businessman through a frosting nozzle and man of cards hovering aflame above an espresso shop that advertises dream interpretations. More humor and less violence prevails in Williams’ other piece, Holistic Extortion, where a peeved psychic holds her crystal ball at gunpoint and demands a rosy future that includes romance, cash and, um, a high school football touchdown? Hey, even the spirits can slip up when under pressure.
Also included are Johnny Ryan’s humorously brutal Angry Youth Comix #8 Cover of two less-than-happy heads on pikes and William Stout’s darkly clever Hellbillys!, a family portrait of zombiefied Southerners complete with a large breasted bimbo, Civil War uniforms, moonshine and requisite outhouse with TV antennae. Spain Roderiquez is all about detailed documentation of gangland brawls and spits out two fascinating black-and-white inks, March 3, 1963 Scenes from Contemporary Life (in which the “Road Vultures reprimand the Infamous Eden Brothers”—practically ripping their heads off) and April 12th 1954, Buffalo New York, an inky street collage featuring “The Gunners meet the Fillmore Gang outside of Deco 28” or, once again, an historical night when the beat generation continues to come of age by tearing people’s guts out.
On a softer more colorful side of the apocalyptic gutter, we find Anthony Ausgang’s bizarre, gummy neon creatures and cars that battle it out in the candy-colored worlds of Triyear Rivals and Cat’s Cradle. Culture jammer Ron English also lives in these more welcoming, though not really less disturbing realms, and his Big Yang Banger oil, an oddly reminiscent of Charlie Brown little guy with a yin yang ball head and two leashed black and white blob critters fisted in each hand, is so technically astute that the trio seem as if they could leap off the canvas to flip your fleshy lid.
Finally, there’s the exquisite surrealist storyteller, Van Arno, and his testaments to patriotic and religious mythology. In Cruel Britannia, we find the sickening yet sweetly cartoonish true story of U.K. imperialism as a lovely nude lady soldier stands in a cavern of blood with her skeletal companions, India and Sailor, and in Neolithic Origins of Angels, we are brilliantly awakened to the idea that a cavewoman with a dead goose strapped to her back and head positioned directly in front of the sun who is momentary glimpsed in a pool of water by another cave woman might, indeed, give rise to stories of winged, haloed, celestial beings. Mystery. Solved.
“California Kustom — Presented by Baby Tatooville” at Riverside Art Museum, 3425 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside, (951) 684-7111; www.riversideartmuseum.org. Open Mon-Sat, 10AM-4PM. $2-$5. Thru Jan. 8.