I said in my post on Arwassa that I would do a series on Lowbrow artists with a focus on young girls, and I have every intention of honoring that. However, I’ve been mulling it over on how best to approach this, and I’ve decided that rather than focus on individual artists who fit within that movement, I’m going to do this another way, at least for the first few posts (the Arwassa post aside). What interests me most about this type of art, and art in a similar vein, is that there are several recurring elements and themes throughout, and I propose that they are ultimately in service to an important psychological phenomenon currently proliferating through Western culture. To put it euphemistically, now that it’s been well-established that children and sex don’t mix very well, what do we do with the sexual insecurity caused by the inappropriate feelings towards children that I believe almost all adults are prone to from time to time?
Now, please note that I am not suggesting that nearly everyone on the planet is a pedophile or potential pedophile. Pedophilia is a medical designation with a fairly specific set of criteria, and it clearly doesn’t apply to most people. But it is my contention that nearly everyone has had the occasional thought, fantasy or impulse to be sexual with someone who is physically and/or emotionally immature. Despite what detractors may say, human sexuality is primal and complex, with a lot of gray areas, unplanned quirks and latent motivations we don’t always understand, and these deep-rooted devils can result in some fairly convoluted mental gymnastics to repress or deny to ourselves what we have felt. I think such feelings, as much as they may disturb us when we face them head-on, are fairly common and normal. Nevertheless, they are obviously not discussed in the open and give rise to psychological phenomena such as projection and sublimation, including into artistic expressions.
But given how controversial and taboo such feelings are in today’s world, we rarely see these expressions presented as is. What happens instead is that these impulses are somewhat disguised or transmuted into safer or less objectionable representations, or they are thematically linked with other things or events which thoroughly repulse the artist (and by proxy the consumers of his or her artistic output), a bolstering of the desired reaction to such a verboten concept. This is not a new occurrence, of course, but it’s ongoing—and rising—popularity, despite its fringe nature, can only be explained as a growing awareness of the ways in which a phenomenon built on the back of a moral panic is processed both by individuals and by society as a whole, so that the feedback loop becomes self-reinforcing, which is how I imagine an otherwise marginal movement becomes mainstream, or at least no longer on the social periphery.
At any rate, having examined a huge range of this art, I have determined that there are twenty-one recurring themes that link this “movement” (like Symbolism, the erotic girl-child in modern surrealism is not so much a movement of its own as it is mainly a trans-movement that happens to be largely contained within a movement yet is not limited to it), and I shall present examples of each from an assortment of artists over the course of several posts. This is not to say that individual artists will not get their own posts. Some will, particularly those with a large range of applicable pieces and important artists in the pop surrealist movement overall. But it’s important, I think, to familiarize ourselves with the common symbols and themes that link these images, and to examine their relevance with respect to my thesis.
One last thing: I am not at all saying that these trends are always a conscious goal to sublimate unwanted pedophilic desires. In fact, I suspect it rarely is, and it’s entirely probable that the artists are barely aware of the instincts they may be sublimating. That does not, however, decrease their power. Alright, so let’s get started.
(1) References to sexuality or sexual acts – It’s essential in comprehending this work that we recognize that not all of the sexual features of this art are entirely rendered into symbolic or allegorical form. Indeed, it is our first and foremost clue as to what purpose the art serves for its creators and fans. Thus . . .
An eye can become uncomfortably vulvic if arranged perpendicular to its normal orientation, especially if said eye isn’t paired with another. Speaking of eyes, Ana Bagayan’s works fits comfortably in the big-eyed waif/baby doll tradition, but we’ll get to that.
Ana Bagayan – Vega
Ana Bagayan – Fae
Ana Bagayan (official website)
Children confronting adult sexuality shows up occasionally in this work. There is an interesting connotation here. Could “Sebastian” be a homosexual who was persecuted by the 50s-style father, who has turned his children against LGBT folks as well? In any case, the resemblance of the nude male to Michelangelo’s David is unmistakable, and the Amors caught in the crossfire of the little archers suggests love is also a casualty of this execution.
Scott G. Brooks – Sebastian of the Suburbs (2008)
Scott G. Brooks (official website)
Stu Mead – Bedroom Dance (1998)
Stu Mead (official website)
Often it is animals that bring attention to the girl’s sexuality, either as harbingers of it or as direct participants.
Jana Brike – Book of Taboo – Five Sins of Amelia
Squarespace: Jana Brike
Notice the cherries on the ground here:
Rene Lynch – Icons – The Messenger (2006)
Rene Lynch (official site)
Fetishistic outfits and accoutrements become satirical when worn by children.
Jana Brike – The Wet Dreams
Trevor Brown – Bondage Bear – Rubber Doll (2005)
Baby Art (Trevor Brown official site)
There is also a male companion piece by Taillefer for the little female cherub below. You can see him here. Incidentally, an oenophile is a lover of wine. I have no idea what that has to do with the image though, other than a suggestion of general hedonism.
Heidi Taillefer – Oenophile
Heidi Taillefer (official site) [link broken]
(2) Humor and satire – But most of the child sexuality in these works isn’t nearly so overt and confrontational. That it surfaces directly from time to time is perfectly understandable. Sexual instincts are messy. But even when such blatant eroticism makes its way into these works, it tends to be packaged as satire, as is the case with all of the above images. Without its most provocative side showing, much of this young girl art remains satiric in nature, and we can therefore add this as the second of our common characteristics.
Ron English’s clown kid art is the prime example. Clowns serve basically two purposes in modern culture: as satire and as fodder for horror. English embraces the former by presenting clowns as children who indulge in adult pursuits like drinking, smoking and gambling. Sex is merely subtly implied (by the extremely short dress worn by the girl clown in this image).
Ron English – Clown Kids Smoking
Ron English’s Popaganda (official site)
On the other end of the spectrum (but no less absurd) is Mike Cockrill’s clown-murdering Lolitas. Underlying this theme is the pervading fear of many modern parents that they are little more than ineffectual clowns in the face a society where their children are becoming increasingly more worldly and empowered, and the kids will eventually replace all of us hidebound fuddy duddies with their New World Order.
Mike Cockrill – Gossip Girls (2010)
Mike Cockrill – Target (2009)
Mike Cockrill (official site)
Another satirical angle is the adoption of light pop culture elements like cartoons and classic comics juxtaposed against general weirdness. This style was of course exemplified by Robert Williams, founder of pop surrealism, but as his work rarely features little girls, we will instead focus on the work of KRK Ryden (older brother of Mark Ryden, who may be better known, but KRK, ten years Mark’s senior, became an artist well before Mark did). Both brothers’ work is laden with little girls, but for different reasons. In KRK’s work they serve as the moral and spiritual center of an otherwise out-of-control culture, though they certainly aren’t spared KRK’s satiric touch.
KRK Ryden – Rendevouz (2007)
KRK Ryden – Shitzville
KRK Ryden (official site)
(3) Cartoonish body exaggerations, particularly of the head, face and eyes – This leads naturally into our third common trait. You should have realized by now that much of this art features more than one of these traits, but of them all, this may be the most universal. Of course, not all of the figures in the art have this trait, but a solid majority appears to. Cartoons are cute and nonthreatening, and that’s partly the point here. Does it become more troubling when the cartoon girls are behaving more humanly? More… grown-up?
Audrey Kawasaki – Lick Face (2005)
Audrey Kawasaki (official site)
LostFish – My Melody Dolly (2011)
LostFish (official site)
The references to Orwell and the modern surveillance state gives this next piece even more relevance in light of our thesis. One common fear among those who have had erotic thoughts about the underaged is that if they aren’t careful and pursue the thoughts too far on the internet, they might be exposed and labeled for life. Overcompensation is common, but these fears still manage to be expressed in symbolic ways, even if several steps removed from their original aspect.
Mario S. Nevado (Aégis) & Liran Szeiman – Big Brother (2013)
Aégis Strife (Mario Nevado official site)
Liransz (Liran Szeiman official site)
Mark Ryden’s name has of course become synonymous with this style.
Mark Ryden – St. Barbie
Mark Ryden (official site)
(4) Girl-women; actual age or maturity level of figures difficult or impossible to discern – And finally for this post, another recurring theme in this work is the girl-woman, a being not quite child and not quite woman but something in-between, and not necessarily adolescent either, but rather an almost alien or mutant form that could be either but feels almost ageless. The cultural value here is similar to that of the kawaii concept in Japan: it is the ability to give anything, including adult sexuality, a sheen of child-like innocence and cuteness without surrendering entirely to a pedophilic instinct. Not that it would be a problem for most people anyway, if only they accepted it for what it was and moved on. But as a species we seem doomed to never move beyond our sexual hangups. How fortunate for fans of subversive art!
Audrey Kawasaki – Horsegirl (2006)
Jana Brike – Parallel Lives – Beekeeper’s Bride
Pay attention to the details of this John John Jesse piece:
John John Jesse – Petit Lapin
Instagram: John John Jesse
Kukula – Wind-Up Girl
Kukula (official site)
Most of these artists will appear again in future installments of this series.