Pop surrealism, or Lowbrow art, is a movement that arose in Los Angeles in the late 1970s. The movement is young, and what could be considered the founding generation are only in their fifties or early sixties. Influenced by founding members and the “older” generation of lowbrow artists like Mark Ryden (born in 1963), Anthony Ausgang (born 1959), Camille Rose Garcia (born in 1970), and Kenny Scharf (born in 1958), a new generation is taking to the streets (and other forms of metaphorical canvas) and adding their imagination to the movement. Here are seven examples of contemporary pop surrealist artists who are making waves in art today.
1. Jeff Soto
Born in Fullerton, California, in 1975, Jeff Soto is known for his pop surrealism, heavily influenced by street art. In his youth, he discovered traditional painting and illegal graffiti, both of which are apparent in his works. His work is said to bridge the gap between pop surrealism and street art.
Early in his career, Soto’s graffiti was inspired by a book he found in 1989, which documented illegal street art in New York. Inspired by the imagery in this book, Soto created his own brand of street art. Throughout the 1990s, Jeff Soto was part of the “Bashers Crew” that created tags, bombs, and pieces.
A decade later, Soto gave up spray painting, citing health reasons, and his career became more focused as a muralist, freelance illustrator, and fine artist. Soto’s first solo exhibit came in 2002 at New Image Art Gallery in Los Angeles; mere months later, his work was displayed at La Luz de Jesus in Los Angeles. Since then, Soto has had solo exhibitions throughout the United States, and his work has been shown in major cities around the world, including Paris, Tokyo, and London. He is represented by Jonathan LeVine Gallery in New York and has become one of the world’s top contemporary pop surrealist artists.
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2. Naoto Hattori
Born in Japan in 1975, Naoto Hattori is a contemporary pop surrealist artist whose work blends the biology of nature with imagined fantasy creatures in a distinctively whimsical style. His paintings blur the lines between humans, monsters, creatures of fantasy, and other elements of fantasy springing from his wild imagination.
His interest in art was instigated by graffiti and street art. He later went on to become a graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York. His work has been displayed in numerous solo and group exhibitions around the world.
3. Marta Zubieta
Marta Zubieta is a contemporary pop surrealist artist, muralist, and illustrator born in Spain and living in Bristol, UK. Through her work, she explores the clichés and experiences of life for Millennials and Gen Z.
With vibrant color, she renders her creations through various styles and themes inspired by pop surrealist art, science fiction, psychedelia, social media, and cartoons from the 90s.
Her imagery conveys aspects of the emotions, dreams, fears, and anxieties of the younger generations, all beautifully and masterfully rendered in bright hues of neons and pastels, which capture the dreamy quality of the subjects in her art.
Marta Zubieta describes her art as adult illustrations for forever teenagers. Her work exploded onto the art scene in 2018, and since then, her art has been displayed in numerous solo and group exhibitions. She has also won many international awards in her so far short career and has released several publications exhibiting her work.
4. Corrie Erickson
Hailing from Northfield, Minnesota, Corrie Erickson was born in 1981. As a pop surrealist artist, he is known for his oil painting, graphic design, and illustration. Erickson, who also spells his name “Erixon,” studied under the famed science fiction artist John Berkey. Erickson has also gained much traction by working for famous actors Patton Oswalt and Zach Galifianakis.
Through various media, such as colored pencils and oil, Erickson has explored numerous themes, many associated with pop surrealism’s core themes, such as hot-rod culture and pin-ups. He has been credited with helping to rejuvenate the “bomber pin-up” style associated with the art that graced the sides of American bombers in World War II. His works also include themes of a militaristic nature from the Second World War.
5. Amy Sol
Born in 1981 in South Korea and currently living in Nevada, Amy Sol has become a prominent part of the pop surrealist art movement. Painting on treated wood panels, she incorporates the grain of the wood into her paintings. Sol has created her unique style through influences of contemporary illustration, folk art, mythology, modern design, manga, and the designs of Studio Ghibli.
Sol’s paintings carry similar themes, usually focusing on a young maiden accompanied by stylized animals or flowers. Her paintings achieve a dreamlike quality through muted colors, washed-out grays, pastels, and the surrounding features of exotic and impossible flora, misty mountains, and rolling hills. Through these components, Sol achieves a sense of peaceful contentment in her paintings that point toward the calm in a chaotic world.
Amy Sol is mostly self-taught, and over the span of a decade, her work has been displayed in solo exhibitions, making her one of the world’s leading contemporary pop surrealist artists.
“Making art has been a natural outlet of expression from as early as I can remember. It is like a communication tether for me, and a tether to my own self and the world in a sense. Oftentimes, I try to leave my work open for interpretation. It’s more an exploration of feeling which can be malleable. When I make art, I’m always searching for imagery that reflects a sense of healing and connectedness with nature and I hope some of that comes through.”
6. Esao Andrews
Born in 1978 in Arizona, Esao Andrews is an American pop surrealist artist who works primarily with oils on wood panel. His colorful palette and considered designs are used to convey haunting themes that often include the gothic grotesque, surrealism, and the erotic.
Growing up in Mesa, Arizona, Andrews moved to New York for his studies. He received his BFA from The School of Visual Arts in 2000. Early in his career, Andrews designed skateboards for Baker Skateboards and also created designs for Deathwish Skateboards.
His cover art for music albums for Circa Survive and his cover art for Vertigo Comics helped him achieve fame in the art world. Recently, Andrews has added mural art and sculpting to his artistic endeavors.
He has been included in group exhibitions since 2002 and, since 2003, has had many solo exhibitions. Andrews currently lives in Los Angeles.
7. Greg Simkins
Born in California in 1975, Greg Simkins is among the leading names in lowbrow art. As a contemporary pop surrealist artist, his work is highly regarded within the community.
His artistic skills began to take shape as early as three years of age. The early influences of cartoons and books such as The Chronicles of Narnia, The Phantom Tollbooth, and Watership Down are often referenced in his art today. The latter is a particularly important theme in that Simkins grew up around rabbits, and they frequently appear in his work.
At the age of 18, Simkins turned his attention to graffiti and tagged under the name of “Craola.” However, he soon moved on to working with acrylics, showing considerable skill with the medium. Through his art, Simkins often displays his love for animals, and many creatures can be found playfully co-existing in a fanciful world free from reality.
He graduated with a BA in Studio Art from California State University, Long Beach in 1999. After graduating, Simkins worked as an illustrator in the clothing and video game industries. He worked for Activision, providing imagery for games such as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, Spider-Man 2, and Ultimate Spiderman. In 2005, he became a full-time artist.
Pop surrealism, as a movement in art, is a result of the modern world. It exhibits many forms and themes that are still in the process of merging as a cohesive movement, and like all art movements, it molds to the shape of societal evolution.
Many contemporary pop surrealist artists are expanding the movement beyond what was previously known and adding new and creative ways to express themes in the art world. As with most art movements, the beginnings offer much in the form of derision from art critics and purists. Nevertheless, pop surrealism’s “lowbrow” nature is sure to win over the hearts of art lovers in the years to come.