Lowbrow art show demonstrates that the silly or grotesque can still be of high quality

Yes, there are two possible interpretations of what Jay Mueller was getting at when titling “F-Art,” the group show he's curating this month at the Vanderelli Room. And both of them are in play.

Outrageous subject matter, alternative mediums, substantial attitude — all these and more will be on display in “F-Art,” a collection of lowbrow and outsider art that opens at the Franklinton gallery during Franklinton Fridays on August 10.

“[The show is] pretty much about giving the finger to the bullshit, having a good time, [saying], ‘This life sucks enough as it is. It's a constant kick in the nuts. Here is some levity in the midst of the nut kicking.' … [It's] a way to respond to it. To say, ‘Fuck you' to it,” Mueller said in an interview at a North Campus bar. “It's also kind of an anti-art show, thumbing your nose at the idea that only certain things can be art. That's what lowbrow art is, kind of a giant ‘F you' to the idea that art has to look a certain way or fit into certain parameters, or be boring or mundane or old hat. This shit is meant to get past that, to be more challenging or make you laugh. It's a little more risque or grotesque.

“The stuff in the show is fun, goofy shit, but it's also really well-executed work, done by people who are just really talented artists.”

Growing up in suburban Chicago, Mueller was always good at art and was always part of an outsider crowd from which much lowbrow art comes. “Even when I was a kid, art to me was always about both challenging minds and making people laugh,” Mueller said, “much to the chagrin of teachers and parents.”

In his early teens, Mueller hung out with punk bands and experimented with illegal drugs, eventually finding his way to an arts-focused high school — “An environment better suited to my delinquent tendencies,” he said, smiling — for his junior and senior years.

Mueller started out studying illustration at CCAD, but switched to photography, despite not wanting to follow in his father's footsteps. “I was trying to stay out of that, but I took a photography elective and everything just sort of came flooding in,” Mueller said. It wasn't long until his work began to reflect his outsider personality. “I started out doing erotica almost immediately,” he said.

This work, along with his continued practice in painting, assemblages and collage, placed him in the midst of a community whose work he hopes to highlight with “F-Art.”

“You start out knowing that you know enough people here who do this, then you do an open call to find out who's doing this stuff that you don't know about, and then you try to encourage some great artists who might want to make something that's outside their normal body of work,” Mueller said, adding that this is the same approach he's taken to co-curating the erotica art show “Il Gabinetto Segreto” the last two years at the Vanderelli Room. “There's so much good stuff out there and not enough places to show it.”

“Jay is uniquely qualified for this,” said local artist W. Ralph Walters, who'll be exhibiting work in the show as well as participating in the Friday opening with the Artists Wrestling League. “Lowbrow art might not be looked down on as much as it used to be. Fan art, comics, pop art — all these would be considered lowbrow, and that stuff has just become ingrained in our culture. But Jay is old school. He remembers the kind of stuff that begat lowbrow in the first place. And he's giving it a place.”

A lengthy list of participating artists includes Felicia DeRosa, Kent Grosswiler, Frank Lawson, Lynda McClanahan, Charles Wince, Robert Gallicchio, Samantha Farkas, Ishmael Reyes Romero, Jen Wrubleski, David Phillips and, of course, Mueller. The opening will include performances by Mark Gunderson, the Artists Wrestling League and punk cover band Hot Wet Trash.

The show closes Aug. 25. A closing reception is also planned.

“There's nothing wrong with stuff you'd consider more traditional, but traditions are meant to be fucked with,” Mueller said. “If you're not doing that, you're not doing your job as an artist.”