In the late 20th and 21st century diverse forms of commonplace and popular art appeared to be coalescing into a formidable faction of new painted realism. The phenomenon owed its genesis to a number of factors. The new school of imagery was a product of art that didn’t fit comfortable into the accepted definition of fine art. It embraced some of the figurative graphics that formal art academia tended to reject: comic books, movie posters, trading cards, surfer art, hot rod illustration, to mention a few.
This alternative art movement found its most congealing participant in one of America’s most opprobrious and maligned underground artists, the painter, Robert Williams. It was this artist to brought the term “lowbrow” into the fine arts lexicon, with his ground breaking 1979 book, The Lowbrow Art of Robt. Williams. It was from this point that the seminal elements of West Coast Outlaw culture slowly started to aggregate.
Williams pursued a career as a fine arts painter years before joining the art studio of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth in the mid-1960s. And in this position as the famous custom car builder’s art director, he moved into the rebellious, anti-war circles of early underground commix. In 1968, Williams linked up with the infamous San Francisco group that piloted the flagship of the miscreant cartoon world, Zap Comix. Along with Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, S. Clay Wilson, Spain Rodriguez, Victor Moscoso and Rick Griffin, Williams learned to function as an artist outside the walls of conventional art.
Known as the “artist’s artist,” in early punk rock art shows held in after-hours clubs, Robert soon pioneered the first break-away art movement in California since the Eucalyptus School’s estrangement from Impressionism in the late 1920s. His bold use of underground cartoon figuration, paired with harshly contrasted psychedelic colors set a style that was an easily recognizable hallmark throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Robert Williams’ influence on alternative art is immeasurable. From his endeavors to broaden the possibilities for young artists to gain exposure, sprang the well known art chronicle, JUXTAPOZ magazine. Even with this popular manifesto and landmark publication, Williams’ well meaning machinations still places his work in a lost league of unvindicated ghosts-he’s now an outsider among outsiders.
Williams’ paintings now take us into the world of subjective theory-a mock realm of violated graphic physics. This is his theoretical search to pinpoint the exact location where the sky meets the ground, with the golden socket wrench used only by quantum mechanics. His art is the first step on that hypothetical journey, but it is now a hapless sojourn through metaphysical superstition or false mystery. It is simply the next logical step into abstract thought.
– Barrett S. Bingham
“There is no way now that I can convey the excitement and the thrill of when those first underground comics came out, when there was nothing but overground comics until us outlaws came into the picture, whippin’ out this no stops pornography… Anything we could think of we would do. The energy and power was unbelievable, we thought we were all going to jail, that we were bordering on sedition.” – Robert Williams
“He’s the finest mechanic I know of, including Picasso and Rembrandt and all of those guys… I think he’s a gentleman in his personal life, but when he draws, he draws like a kook.” – Ed “Big Daddy” Roth
“Seeing what Robert Williams and S. Clay Wilson had done [in underground comix] just gave me the last little push I needed to let open the floodgates.” – R. Crumb
Featured books by Robert Williams (click covers for complete product details & ordering information)