Nov 17, 2011

REVIEW | Weirdo Deluxe The Wild World of Pop Surrealism & Lowbrow Art, Matt Dukes Jordan, Chronicle Books, 2005

Weirdo Deluxe The Wild World of Pop Surrealism & Lowbrow Art, Matt Dukes Jordan, Chronicle Books, 2005
While browsing through the hundreds of endless books lined back to back in the aisles of the library, one in particular caught my eye, Matt Duke Jordan's Weirdo Deluxe The Wild World of Pop Surrealism & Lowbrow Art.  It might have been the aqua colored spine that jumped out at me first, but the title starting so proudly with such a strange word definitely appealed to my inner 'weirdo' and held my attention long enough to take this bizarre book home with me to see what was behind the comically illustrated cover.

Being an art student, of course I've studied surrealism, pop art, and even pop surrealism, but I'd really never heard the term lowbrow art.  This is probably because, most artists prefer not to to have their art labeled as lowbrow because some see it as limiting or even derogatory.  Lowbrow was an underground movement developed primarily in California. It's influences come from comics, cartoons, hot rods, and punk music with a sense of humor or satire.

After a concise introduction, Jordan displays a colorful fourteen page time line explaining the influences and history of lowbrow art.  It was almost shocking to see certain names pop up in the sequence, such as Bugs Bunny, Dr. Seuss, Pee-Wee's Playhouse, and hot rod cars.  I had always just seen these as cartoon shows or collector items, not something to help strike up a new movement in art.  Many of the artists displayed later in the book also mentioned the popular 90's cartoon The Ren And Stimpy Show as a influential starting point of their lowbrow illustration style.  At the time I hated the crude show, but looking at the work displayed in the book, I can definitely see how that influence comes into play.

Following the timeline, Jordan showcases twenty three artists whose work all fall under the category of lowbrow, whether they admit it or not.  What I like most about the artists' profile is the interview style technique used for each person, accompanied by five or six large photos of their work.  The two questions asked to each artist that I found most intriguing was "What Does He/She Collect" and "On Lowbrow".  The first seemed like an unusual question at first, but thinking farther into it, the things people find interesting and valuable enough to collect and fill their lives with definitely says a lot about their personality, which in return will be relayed into their work.  A majority of these artists said things like dolls, comic books, and various types of toys.  These childish items are definitely echoed in the art they create. For example, Mark Ryden said he collected children's books, stuffed animals, and "toys, toys, toys."  A lot of his works consist of fantasy worlds with children, animals, and toys.
Mark Ryden, The Magic Circus, 2001

I found the section on the artist's take on lowbrow interesting because of each individual response.  Some artists, like Todd Schorr reject the term in disgust,
"Lowbrow is an annoying, misleading description that belittles this art in what seems to be a fun, flippant manner. I have no idea what moniker should be hung on this art movement."
While others simply overlook it, like when Joe Sorren says, "The label isn't important, it's the work that's important."  Personally, I feel Isabel Samaras summed it up best:
"The great thing about lowbrow is that it's always seemed to be very inclusive: anybody can play. . . . There's an openness to a large swath of styles and backgrounds that's positively exhilarating."
 After viewing these artists' works, I couldn't agree more.  Jordan definitely chose a wide selections of artists that each have their own individual styles and ways of creating art, but yet they all have similar traits in their work that classify them in the very broad category of lowbrow.  From reading the statements in this book, I feel that lowbrow is a way for artists to express themselves in a very nontraditional way with no limits on what type of style they prefer.  It their chance to just have fun and make whatever they want to make.  Weirdo Deluxe definitely follows that theme with a very fun layout that keeps the content interesting and easy to follow.

-Julie Jakubek


  1. ContributorNov 21, 2011 08:52 PM
    Out of curiosity does the book talk about Robert Williams (sometimes called the King Of Lowbrow) or Robert Crumb from looking at the title of the book, I am curious if this is where the author got the title from.

    -Brock Caron
  2. itsandytimeNov 26, 2011 12:17 PM
    This looks like an interesting book! Your description of the different artists involved and their own confusion over what to call their particular style - if they want to pin a name to it at all - are very intriguing. Thinking of "lowbrow" art I imagine some of the products that might me sold at Toy Joy or some other alternative toy store. Overall, I am really tempted to go out and buy this book.
    - Rachel Clark
  3. ContributorNov 27, 2011 10:11 PM
    Brock: Robert Williams is in fact showcased in the book, but I don't remember reading about Crumb. Also, a lot of the artists reference Williams in their interviews.

    Rachel: If you are into the 'lowbrow' style then I definitely suggested checking out the book. The images in it are especially great, and there is such a wonderful variety of work!

    -Julie Jakubek