Lowbrow art is like junk food. If the great art of antiquity is like rich, gourmet cuisine, a lot of modern art is like one of those joyless, new age-y, vegan diets—all spinach and sprouts and other stuff that keeps you regular and ambulatory, even as your muscles wither away and your bones turn to chalk. Lowbrow art—that is, the fun, self-consciously kitschy stuff you'll find in the pages of Robert Williams' Juxtapoz magazine—feels good going down, like a burger, fries and Coke, and is often packed with just as many empty calories. As Morgan Spurlock graphically demonstrated in Supersize Me, a diet of nothing but Double McHeartattacks will make you fat, sickly and stupid. But a life without junk food isn't worth living, and if you plan your menu with a little intelligence and discipline (in other words, instead of some Shag with fries, try Mark Ryden and a baked potato) and mix it up with some tofu now and then, you can lead a healthy, happy artful existence.
"The Strangest Life I've Ever Known," the new show at the J. Flynn Gallery, is a banquet of gooey, greasy treats, and you stagger out feeling bloated but happy. It's like sampling everything on the McDonald's menu, then stopping off at Wendy's to enjoy a chocolate Frosty. God bless America.
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The exhibit's stated purpose is to showcase artists "tapping into people's fascination and ties to folktales, oddities, myths, legends and mysteries," which frankly could describe just about any lowbrow show ever. But most of the artists here do seem to have taken that tagline to heart; Rich Tuzon paints lush scenes of mythological characters, giving Bacchus, for instance, a particularly becoming Thai makeover. Matt Groller depicts a red-bearded giant out of Norse folklore who somehow seems to have found himself in an African village, and Groller has another winner featuring a masked nude woman on a unicorn. Odd? Legendary? Mysterious? Mission accomplished, Mr. Groller.
While much of today's fine art is created by people who spent years in art school without learning how to draw worth a damn, many lowbrowers were (or still are) professional animators or graphic designers and often have dazzling technical skills. By day, John Quinn III is an artist working in Disney's consumer-products division, while by night, he saves his soul from the everlasting fires of hell by going home and drawing some of the cutest little naked fat ladies you ever did see. With their rather magnificent cottage-cheese thighs and kewpie-doll pouts, these zaftig honeys could make a chubby-chaser out of anybody. My favorite piece on display here depicts a Fall of Man like no other, with Adam and Eve rendered as two squat, deliriously horny creatures caught mid-smooch as an oily serpent writhes beneath them enjoying the show. Eve's trunk is packed to the point of absurdity with junk, while Adam sports an insistent and hilarious little hard-on. One can't help but feel a sense of gratitude to these two for giving in to temptation, biting that apple, and freeing us from an eternity of hanging around in some boring old garden and not screwing each other silly.
A lot of the artists in this show grab hold of a prop like a fetish object and work it into almost all of their work. Jeff McMillan is an artist of consummate skill—a lot of his paintings look like slick magazine illustrations hopped up on some seriously evil drugs—who has of late developed a thing for fezzes. He also likes blue-skinned, white-furred, horned gorillas, and in Passage of Mystic Rights, he daringly combines the blue gorillas and the fezzes. (Although in hindsight, this collision seems strangely inevitable.) Thomas Lee Bakofsky's portfolio is packed with so many matches, cigarettes and flames, you almost wonder if this guy got caught in a forest fire when he was little, while Thomas Broersma takes the stuff of tinfoil-hat lunacy and makes beauty out of it. In the face of all this, relatively straightforward oddballs such as Seth Drunner (comic-book-y warriors shooting arrows and rayguns) and Sue Blanchard (old-timey sideshow banners) pale in comparison. But if sideshow freaks and guys with rayguns are as routine as it gets, you're doing just fine.
"The Strangest Life I've Ever Known" at the J. Flynn Gallery, 2950-A Randolph Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-3504; www.jflynngallery.com. Call for hours. Through Sat.