Disney Poison, Anime Erotica, and an affection for cult and the bizarre are just part of what enables the edgy-cute phenomena. A growing sub-culture within the low-brow/ pop surrealist art movement of today, there isn’t quite enough arm’s length distance to really justify or interpret the movement as a whole just yet. It continues to evolve and re-examine itself by each contributing artist in what should still be considered an introduction.
Unlike the Pop Art movement of the 1960’s, our current artistic marvel trades and intertwines its roots with Asian popular culture and is not limited to a purely Western world view. Soft and round or super flat, our worlds are based on bold exaggerations that define a different kind of storytelling, a different kind of reality. Mass media and the constant stimulation of a thriving technological world have transformed into mascots of mass consumption and are now the re-appropriated spokesmen of new ideas. Unlike the fallen matinee idol worship of Elvis and Monroe types, our modern day heroes are based in the immortality of abstracted reality cartoon fetish.
We are intoxicated with memories of simplified Nintendo minimalism, Disney artificial sweetener, and reinterpreted manga representations; that mirror image reflected an often darker alter ego many found surprisingly refreshing and appealing. There is a sincerity in its often brutal honestly. That certain sweetness becomes cannibal fodder for the masses. There is still an affection for our subject matter, our connection to that other place through the looking glass; our childhood happiness by way of animated make believe. We are drawn to squatty, soft Hello Kitties, vintage pop advertising featuring loveable toons or even the daily reminders of our digital selves through our representative computer world avatar alter egos because we secretly desire to be our own superheroes. The women’s movement lead to a generation of socially confident and independent feminists, but it did not break our necessity to nurture. We are reinterpreting our imperfections as secret powers—something that others should fear rather than victimize. This abrupt introduction to sexuality isn’t limited to the female artists; our male counterparts are also independently guilty of our brand of perversity. Long, linear candy sticks, an overabundance of multi-“legged” personas, and super gooey liquids are all part of this new visual language; not only are we not ashamed to admit it, but we have a sense of humor as well. The striped stockings of Raggedy Ann became much more interesting by association once connected to those same candy stripes on the Wicked Witch of Oz. Villains were portrayed as having great strength or intelligence and damsels always seem to be in need of their own heroes. Why not build your own defense mechanisms? Today’s generation of young boys and girls have proven their own resourcefulness and evolve at will.
There is a definite focus on the messenger; a common seduction to retain the viewer. Some artists use this soothing propaganda as a universal archetype of commonality, while others utilize this messenger as a direct representation of American immaturity or perhaps our population’s lowest common denominator. We see a feminist sarcasm, perhaps in response to the mainstream attraction to “purity.” There is an appeal of twisted eroticism in animated sex sequences featuring our beloved Bambi-eyed brand of hero. Our escapist nature allows us to indulge in cultural taboos and immorality. There is an empowerment in our vulnerability and a desire for an emotional connection, even if it is in fact just a simulation.
Some artists choose to bring only the slightest level of discomfort. Their subject matter focusing on the innocent; big eyed cherubs with cuddly animalia sidekicks, often presented as likely baby nursery décor. The bizarre twists are subtle, often unnoticed. A devilish glare or a facetious tone often counterbalance what should be merely sweetness and light. As children, they evoke a sense of temporality; childhood serves as a starting ground, a place where things begin. At the same time, children personify ‘cuteness’ as more of a representation of projected innocence. These figures are abstracted though bright colors or dramatic lines; overwhelmed by style, these illustrated characters over-saturate and undermine the careful branding of childhood storytellers. Not just through gallery type installations, but non-traditional media such as apparel, accessories, designer vinyl, and plush toys. The art as a movement is most clever in its own marketing; it is bigger than itself; not just a lifestyle but a consumer driven movement.
Perhaps our memories have eroded and we’ve superimposed what is ideal into these alter egos. We find ourselves at the beginning, and seek our own definition, our own connection to our own version of this moment in time. Unlike art movements of the past, this culmination of ideas and cultural criticism combine all elements of visual branding; illustrators are no longer excluded by academia elitists; designers in complimentary media become collaborators, and the artists that try to define themselves from within work with their popular markets to create a new brand of cultural authenticity. There will be questions and concerns of misogyny, overstepping cultural boundaries, the simple notion of perversion and any relationship with child-like representations; there is no lack of controversy even when fueled by an enthusiastic mainstream audience. In the grand scope of the history of art making, we are still taking our first steps, starting the conversation, and welcoming a new dialogue.