A flash of diverse imagery shoots across the inside of my eyelids when I think back on the last decade of art in San Diego. Multimedia, conceptual, performance, plein-air, realism, surrealism, abstract—it’s all happening here if you know where to look.
But during the last 10 years in our city and the rest of Southern California, the most pervasive genre has, without a doubt, been pop surrealism or “lowbrow” art. Los Angeles has managed to do the whole doe-eyed-characters-set-against-chaotic-surrealistic-urban-settings thing to the point of oversaturation. But I still dig a great pop-surrealism painting when I see one, and San Diego has plenty of artists who’ve added to the genre rather than regurgitating the same shit you see splattered across canvases everywhere else.
A lot of the artists on this list have had their work featured on CityBeat’s cover, and I’ve had fun covering them over the last 10 years (OK, I wasn’t with CityBeat the whole time, but I’m rounding up). I look forward to seeing how they continue to evolve over the next decade, and how CityBeat evolves along with them.
And before you send an angry email asking why your favorite San Diego pop surrealist wasn’t on the list, just know that I’m a huge fan of folks like Ricardo Islas, Jason Sherry, Kevin Peterson, James and Lindy Ivey, Dion Terry, Scott Saw, Dark Vomit, David Gough, Shay Davis, Kelly Vivanco and countless others. I promise to include them on the list when CityBeat turns 20.
1. Saratoga Sake: He recently put up a killer piece at Writerz Blok celebrating his 30 years as a graffiti artist. While he cut his teeth on the streets as one of the region’s first and most prolific urban artists, he eventually stopped the illegal stuff and began producing what I think is one of the most beautiful bodies of work in the city. Oil paint has been good to this man. Now, if he’d just pick it up a little more often.
2. Kelsey Brookes: Brookes has certainly blossomed (read: blown up) and moved beyond the constraints of pop surrealism during the last few years. His neon patterns pop off the canvas, and collectors and galleries around the world continue to take note.
3. Tim McCormick: He doesn’t call San Diego home anymore, but since McCormick was probably one the first local pop surrealists to come across my radar, he’s got a permanent spot on my list of artists to watch and follow, no matter where he sets up shop. His weird, kinda creepy work continues to captivate the masses because of the narratives he communicates with paint.
4. Pamela Jaeger: She’s still at it, churning out technically proficient, alluring pop-surrealism paintings in her chosen palette of mostly cool blues, greens, pinks and maroons. And, yes, it’s hard not to bring up the pioneering-woman thing, but there are still so few women working in the genre that it simply has to be said.
5. Joshua Krause: Krause doesn’t even come close to falling into the pop-surrealism category anymore, but back in the day, he painted the kind of soulful characters that stole people’s hearts. Krause has moved on to bigger and better things in terms of genre, but he’s earned himself a permanent spot on this list for the path he helped pave—he reminded people they didn’t have to drive to L.A. to find quality work.
6. Matt Stallings: Stallings’ paintings put pop culture on display in interesting, strange and whimsical ways. His bright colors collide to bring people the story of a world filled with consumerism, war, mass marketing and the humanity that’s stuck somewhere inside.
7. N.C. Winters: Every time I see a new piece by Winters pop up on my computer screen—whether on Facebook, Twitter or any of the other social networks he’s active on—I’m stunned at how detailed his work is and how amazingly productive he seems to be. While all of his work is good, the artist is at his best when he paints faces of obscure icons and relics from the past (I love his portrayal of Tik-Tok from Return to Oz).
8. Jen Trute: Trute was truly a master painter. She died last year, but her largescale works, which often told dark tales of environmental degradation, are truly stunning when you see them in person. She spent months on each piece, and her dedication to the tedious painting process shows in her final products, which often flirt with perfection.
9. Bret Barrett: Barrett’s paintings are rad and obsessively polished, but it’s his kinetic sculptures that really set him apart from the rest. His brain goes off in all kinds of fascinating directions, and it’s always exciting to see what weird creature he brings to life.
10. Mike Maxwell: His blue-faced, facialhaired historical figures are his most recognizable work, but, lately, he’s allowed himself to venture into wackier territory, and the results have been good.
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