Here is something different: a major exhibition of Lowbrow, Post-Pop, and Pop Surrealism in the heart of downtown Santa Fe that features plenty of local and regional artists, as well as major players from a movement that began on the West Coast in the 1970s. For Keep Contemporary gallery director Jared Antonio-Justo Trujillo — an artist himself and a fan of Lowbrow art — it is a dream come true to bring so many contemporary examples together, including street art, graffiti art, and art that draws inspiration from popular culture.
But what exactly are these art forms? Lowbrow art is a populist movement with roots in punk rock, hot rod culture, and underground comix, among other influences, and the term is often used interchangeably with Pop Surrealism. New Contemporary is a more recent term that also embraces these cutting-edge movements. Whatever the name, the style is gaining acceptance and wider interest in the art market and at museums. These are art forms that were largely born on the street. It’s art for the people and a necessary foil to so-called “highbrow” tastes. But that’s not to say it isn’t just as well executed or technically proficient as more traditional fine art forms. It is. And that’s part of what makes When Worlds Collide: Explorations into the New Contemporary worth your time.
The exhibition, which opens on Friday, June 14, and runs through July 14, was co-curated by Trujillo and artist Dennis Larkins, who was an early proponent of the Lowbrow and Pop Surrealism movements.
“I’ve been after Dennis since I’ve been open,” Trujillo said. “He finally got in the gallery and, after we built a rapport, I was like, ‘Why don’t you curate a show?’ And, you have to understand, I’m a huge fan of Dennis. He’s been around since Day One in the movement that I think has the most energy — the Lowbrow movement. So what better guy to curate a show?”
The exhibition’s roster of artists — more than 70 — is simply mind-blowing, with enough range to satisfy anyone with an interest in the New Contemporary movement. The list includes Van Arno, Anthony Ausgang, Carrie Anne Baade, Mark Bryan, KRK Ryden, R.K. Sloane, Joe Vaux, and Eric Joyner, to name a few. Even work by Swiss artist H.R. Giger is in the show. Giger is widely known for his works of dark fantasy in which organic and mechanical forms are joined into unsettling hybrids, and for his creature design for the film Alien (1979).
Trujillo and Larkins will also have their own work in the show. “I grew up doing graffiti my whole life, and I just love the whole ideology behind that movement,” said Trujillo, who is 43. Some of his more recent work includes intricate powder-coated aluminum designs that are reminiscent of graffiti or resemble elements of an unfamiliar language. They’re wall-mounted, water-jet-cut sculptures lit from behind by LEDs.
When Worlds Collide is a showcase for new and emerging artists, but it also features well-established artists like Bryan, who makes darkly comic paintings on themes of social and political satire. A major figure in Pop Surrealism, he was cast into the social media spotlight during the 2016 presidential election with his biting, unflattering portraits of Donald Trump.
The show is also multigenerational.
“I just turned 76,” Larkins said. “Creative energy doesn’t know any bounds. It’s more like attitude and your intention as a creator. I think there’s a young attitude in this gallery, and I’m pleased to be a part of it because I try to maintain that myself.”
In 2014, Larkins co-curated ¡Orale! Kings and Queens of Cool at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos with the museum’s former curator, Jina Brenneman. The show was a pivotal showcase for Lowbrow art, which rarely gets its due in New Mexico venues.
In the early days of the Pop Surrealism movement, Larkins was working in Los Angeles as a theme-park designer and making paintings in his spare time. He also worked as a stage designer for rock promoter Bill Graham and worked on album covers and posters for rock bands like The Grateful Dead. His personal connections to artists in the movement and to his New York-based agent, who he said was Giger’s agent previously, made it possible for Larkins to bring the artists’ works to Keep Contemporary. “I could never have pulled it off on my own,” Trujillo said. “Even though I have tons of regional connections, I don’t have as many as Dennis.”
Among the local and regional artists Trujillo is showing are some gallery regulars like Holly Wood, who makes figurative paintings that incorporate elements of fantasy, surrealism, and Mexican Day of the Dead calaveras, or skulls. Also featured is Katy Kidd, whose paintings are a confluence of elements such as cars and cathedrals, big wheels and pink flamingos, which cut across all manner of cultural landscapes in a mesh of disparate forms that reflect the multitudinous fabric of modern society.
He’s also showing work by painter Ryan Singer, who blends traditional Navajo imagery with pop culture imagery — often from science fiction films — as a way to critique antiquated views of contemporary Native peoples.
When Worlds Collide is a rare treat for both Santa Feans and for visitors, who won’t see much Lowbrow art on Canyon Road or in most of the downtown galleries, which cater to more traditional tastes. Trujillo is hoping to mix things up by giving a voice to artists working outside of the mainstream, not just with this show but in general.
“I’m kind of trying to change the narrative in Santa Fe a little bit,” he said. “It’s a very conservative market, as we all know. For me, being from here, I absolutely love the regional art. I love the Native American art, but I just think there’s more to the story.” ◀
▼ When Worlds Collide: Explorations into the New Contemporary
▼ Opening reception 5 p.m. Friday, June 14; through July 14
▼ Keep Contemporary, 142 Lincoln Ave., Ste. 102, 505-557-9574,