A rising interest in Lowbrow art genre
by Teresa Annas
The Virginian-Pilot, July 15, 2011

The Lowbrow art going on view Saturday night at Lorrie Saunders ArtGallery offers a peek into the psyches of some of the nation’s most noteworthy artists in that genre.

The free opening reception is from 7 to 9:30 p.m.

The West Coast-centered movement, which began underground and is becoming increasingly main-stream, is embraced by younger artists who relate to pop culture and the Internet.

New Yorker Allison Sommers’ paintings feature invented beasts in vulnerable situations. Her subject stems from being an only child and relating most comfortably to animals.

Jessica McCourt, who lives near Seattle, draws inspiration from nature and folklore, sometimes in macabre ways. One of her paintings shows a floating head and is based on an old folk tale about a disembodied head roaming about the woods as a child.

Elizabeth Levesque’s latest paintings concern women who rely on fortunetelling in various forms to get a grip on their lives. The Norfolk artist, an emerging figure in Lowbrow circles, is not a believer, but sees Ouija boards, rabbit’s feet and wishbones as a way for humans to gain a sense of control.

Her husband, Jason Levesque, whose art tag is Stuntkid (a nickname acquired in his skateboarding days), organized the Ghent gallery show called “Stuntkid & Friends.”

Levesque, 35, was featured in an ArtGallery show last summer. “We had a big turnout. I sold a lot,” he recalled earlier this week.

Based on that success, he and gallery director Lorrie Saunders began planning the current exhibition right after the first one closed. “We decided it would be nice for me to be able to pick some of my friends, people I’ve shown with before.” Levesque will show work again, too.

The six other artists, except for his wife, have all shown with him in Los Angeles, which is the epicenter of Lowbrow.

Levesque’s invitation carried some weight.

“Jason has a huge following,” said Sommers, who spoke by phone on Monday. “He’s definitely a big deal,” in both Lowbrow art and as an illustrator for publications, such as LA Weekly. He is lead animator for Norfolk-based Grow Interactive, which provides digital services for such clients as FedEx, Google and Sprint.

The artists in the show represent various approaches clustered under the big Lowbrow stylistic tent. “They’re also artists whose works are priced in an affordable range,” Levesque (pronounced Leh-Vek) said.

Most original works are priced below $750 with numerous pieces at $250 or less. Sommers, one of the show’s better-known artists is charging up to $2000 for her painstakingly detailed gouache paintings.

It’s not uncouth to mention price regarding Lowbrow works because the movement’s tone is anti-elitist.

Lowbrow artists, rather than striving to react to or play off mainstream art, are inspired by such popular sources as tattoos, cartoons, punk rock, film and television.

Galleries geared to Lowbrow have emerged in metropolitan cities, especially Los Angeles. Two prominent ones in the Los Angeles vicinity are Nucleus Gallery and Thinkspace Gallery.

Sommers is represented by Thinkspace, located in Culver City, CA.

“There’s just so much that is considered Lowbrow now,” including a lot of art that is figurative and suggests a story, said Sommers, 27, who lived in Charlottesville from 2001 until last year. She has a history degree from the University of Virginia and was art director of The Hook, an independent news weekly.

“There is a huge audience for this work,” said Saunders. “They’re mostly young people, although there are older people who like it too.

“So many of the fans and collectors follow them on the Internet. Most of them have websites and blogs and facebook pages, so that’s where a lot their audience comes from.”

Lowbrow art can touch on fantasy and look bizarre and even a little grotesque, Saunders said. The work often merges flat, graphic illustration styles with fine art.

Elizabeth Levesque, who studies painting at Tidewater Community College’s Visual Arts Center in Portsmouth, said she thinks the Lowbrow term may no longer be the best name for this art.

The word sounds derogatory, she acknowledged. But “that’s part of the point. Embracing it. Not doing high art. Not doing parlor portraits or religious painting.

“It’s about anything you want, really. It’s what the painting wants to do rather than the art public dictating it.