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by LINDA MITCHELL
Within the realm of Jeff Jordan's
fertile imagination, anything can happen. People might morph
into reptiles or fish, genetically modified barnyard animals
may tower over Middle Eastern architecture, or a '50s-era boy
might even contemplate a silvery mermaid on the end of his fishing
line. And, according to Jordan, even though he's had a tough
time surviving as a local "underground" artist for
the past 30 years, more and more people are beginning to appreciate
his unique and peculiar imaginary realm.
When we met the other day to
talk about his current show at HSU's First Street Gallery in
Eureka (continuing through Nov. 2), Jordan arrived looking like
a seasoned painter is supposed to look, gray-haired and rough
around the edges, his clothes crusty with paint. He says even
though he's 55, he feels like he's getting younger and better
all the time, but no matter how much I begged, he wouldn't let
me take his picture, insisting he didn't want to be recognized.
Still, Jordan appeared to relish
the attention his art has been getting lately, telling me proudly
that roughly 1,200 people attended the October Arts Alive! opening
reception at First Street for his joint exhibition with his friend
and fellow counterculture artist John Pound. He says he's particularly
happy about the large percentage of young artists expressing
an interest in his work these days, but that people "across
the board" seem to be attending the exhibit in record numbers.
Now, if you look at it from
a larger perspective, this surge of interest isn't at all surprising,
since "underground art" has suddenly become the hottest
thing around, on an international scale. Known by various names,
including "underground" or "counterculture"
art, or more currently, "Lowbrow Aesthetics," this
genre has its roots in the pop culture of the 1960s, including
comic books, B-movies, cartoons,
Pop Art, California Funk, rock `n' roll, psychedelia, graffiti,
tattoos and surf art.
[Above left, "Catch
of the Day," and below "Big Mutant" art by Jeff
I'm pretty sure the whole movement
originated in California as a West Coast nose-thumbing gesture
in protest of East Coast "Highbrow Aesthetics," but
don't quote me on it. At any rate, in the past few years "Lowbrow
Aesthetics (LA)" has become a sizzling "new" art
movement and is all the rage among hip young urban artists and
a new breed of art collectors who are crowding into galleries
and gobbling up the work like maniacs. These collectors include
some pretty big names, like film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicholas
Cage, Dennis Hopper and Crispin Glover, as well as South Park
creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
This underground genre of art
even has its own hip magazine (and a variety of spin-offs), San
Francisco-based Art Juxtapoz, founded in 1994 by Zap Comics
alumnus Robert Williams and hot rod artist Big Daddy Roth. And
here's the really interesting part: Art Juxtapoz, the
self-proclaimed "new art magazine for a new art movement,"
is apparently now capturing a larger audience than most of the
"real" art magazines, according to an article in LA
Weekly. It currently has the third largest circulation of
any art magazine in the world, more than double that of Artforum.
Juxtapoz has also become a place where underground artists
can get more upscale illustration gigs, and "lowbrow aesthetics"
have begun to creep into some surprising venues, such as The
New Yorker and Time magazine, LA Weekly writes.
Jeff Jordan believes his work
(more or less) fits the "underground" profile and says
he's been reaping the benefits of this sudden respect for the
genre, noting that his work has attracted the attention of new
benefactors as well. "There's a whole new batch of collectors
out there who are looking for things that are more about what
the artist is really thinking about, instead of `Oh, there's
another nice painting of Napa Valley,'" he says. "They're
looking for work that's more conceptual."
I asked him to explain the conceptual
basis of certain paintings in the show, but he was reluctant,
saying he didn't want to give too much away. "The work operates
on a lot of different levels. I want to confuse people, because
if people are mystified, they're really considering what's going
on in a painting. Mike Gallarda [a former Humboldt artist] always
said `If I have to talk about it, I didn't paint it right.' To
me that always said it the best."
Jordan says he sees his art
as "totally classical," and mythologically oriented.
I asked if "Big Mutant" (a painting featuring five
G-men sneaking, well, a big red mutant into a desert silo marked
"52"), was based on a myth.
"Area 52 is right next
to area 51. Since 51 is where they keep all the aliens, 52 must
be where they keep all the mutants, the cloning experiments that
didn't quite succeed and didn't quite fail." Neither of
us could remember whether Area 51 was in Roswell or another location
in the New Mexico desert, but we agreed it would undoubtedly
fall under the contemporary myth category.
Born and raised on the North
Coast, Jordan says he can't imagine living anywhere else, since
he's so deeply connected to the local art community. "It's
all here," he says. "Anything you want to know about,
there's somebody doing it. This is the center of a real interesting
bunch of people and it's always been my good fortune to hook
up with some really good posses."
Jordan's posses include many
local artists with shared aesthetic sensibilities, including
John Pound, Duane Flatmo (featured at Gallery Dog through October)
and Jesse Crumb (son of Robert Crumb, of "Keep on Truckin'"
"I'm also connected to
a lot of youths," Jordan says. "Forest [Stearns] and
the E2 [Empire Squared] gang, Jesse Wiedel and a lot of other
great kids, just through the good fortune that they've come to
my shows and responded to what I'm doing."
Of course, Jeff Jordan was producing
art with "lowbrow aesthetics" before many of these
younger artists were born. "I was one of those guys who
wanted to paint, so I went out and bought paints and something
to paint on, and before you know it, 30 years have gone by,"
Jordan says. "I stuck with it. There's nothing I want to
Linda Mitchell can be reached
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