The Sirens of Vicious, Delicious and Ambitious
March 6 to March 29
“What is Lowbrow art?” one might ask. Why, it’s what’s for dinner at CPOP Gallery. Yes, it’s art that’s maligned and sneered at by more refined artists and curators. Yes, Lowbrow is often cuter, sexier and raunchier than “fine art.” It’s easily as controversial as pop art was in the ’60s, when artists took everyday objects and presented them as grand works of art; or as when the first modernists in Europe, such as Courbet, began painting everyday people to the horror of the academy. Lowbrow art is 21st century America’s art of the masses. It’s art made by and for the working class, and it generally takes as subject matter pop culture references from the ’50s to today, including pinups, devils, tiki, flames, lounge and hotrod culture, S&M and vamp-siren type of stuff. It’s sexy; it’s popular. Unfortunately, the best of Lowbrow is often too expensive for blue-collar fans in Detroit, a problem that CPOP struggles with daily.
Maybe the gallery will have some good luck with this weekend’s show of national female Lowbrow artists. Curated by Detroit’s queen of the movement, Niagara, CPOP’s show will feature a handful of artists profiled in Columbus, Ohio, writer Sherri Cullison’s new book, Vicious, Delicious and Ambitious: 20th Century Women Artists.
As explained in the book, Lowbrow started in the ’50s as men returning from World War II took to the street the images they had painted on warplanes. It’s the art of tattoos, leather jackets, rockabilly and motorcycle clubs. In the ’90s, the genre was reinvigorated by artists across the country, including Detroit’s Glen Barr, Slaw and Niagara. Women artists entered the field to reclaim what had primarily been a glamorized, flamboyant, hip style of painting pinups.
Highlights of CPOP’s show will include the psychedelic designs and geographic paintings of Suzanne Williams, and the smart, witty revisions of pulp fiction art by Sharon Leong. Leong’s “Motel Wife,” acrylic on canvas, is a poignant vision of a mistress left sprawled face-down on a motel bed; while “Dangers of Sex No. 6 — Eating Pussy,” 2001, is a humorous play, showing a woman who apparently tried to eat her cat and was scratched royally for her efforts. The cat screams with horror as it jumps out of her hands.
Kirsten Easthope’s bowling pins painted with pinups and showgirls will be on display, as well as the pop art paintings of Vancouver’s The Poptarts, aka artists Vicki Murdoch and Nicole Steen. A dark favorite of mine are the three-dimensional dioramas by punk rock L.A. artist Liz McGrath, who uses religious iconography from a “freak show” point of view, employing bugs and beetles along with the skeletons, for a dark modern spin on "Day of the Dead" art. McGrath, at times, can be spellbinding.
Regardless of your feelings about serious art vs. flippant, sexy art, it’s hard to argue that there isn’t something grand about women taking over this male, libido-driven genre.
Meet the talented beauties and see their works at the CPOP Gallery opening and book signing Saturday, March 6, from 8 to 11 p.m. CPOP is at 4160 Woodward Ave. Call 313-833-9901.Lisa M. Collins is the arts editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].