“It was like a synapse happened or something connected and it changed everything” -Jo Jackson
Last semester a rad group of students and myself got the chance to dive into the Riot Grrrl feminist art movement of the early 1990s for a finals project. Resulting from the snapshot, a whole do-it-yourself (DIY) culture was exposed to us. A generation of artists came from this era as well that are completely worth the 90 minute documentary about their extraordinary impact on the art world in Aaron Rose’s 2008 film, Beautiful Losers.
The film trails 14 artists that have continued to make leaps and strides to rip, mold, and reshape our visual culture. The typical use of a plain canvas was thrown out the window as the birth of spray can art (or graffiti art) helped heed the exploration of innovative approaches to get new audiences to see their work. Art landed on shoes, sidewalks, skateboards, t-shirts, stickers, cars, and buildings. Artist, Shepard Fairey weighed in on commercial art, “I mean there’s a way to be The Beatles, to have the smartest guy in the room and the dumbest guy in the room digging what you’re doing.”
Hearing artists speak out about their work and how it does or doesn’t fit in with commercialism along with the struggle between staying true to their vision and not selling out was a large theme in film. Some artists were able to balance both worlds, Geoff McFetridge shared his experience in designing for corporate clients, “I’m going to do something that I think is awesome, instead of trying to like please something that they are saying.” A lot of these “beautiful losers” were some of the firsts to reap the benefits of putting their art on items that were to be commercialized and marketed to the masses. Filmmaker, Mike Mills commented on how his art success was able to stomp the haters that didn’t support him, “It was like getting back at all the tan blonde motherfuckers who wouldn’t talk to me.”
Other artists didn’t want any part of the commercial side of the industry and used political undertones to push themselves into making a socially conscious piece of art. Barry McGee was one of those artists on the other side of the commercial spectrum, “The best venue is still always the street…I’m weary of this idea that you have to get bigger and more exposure and bigger audience. It’s all bullshit to me. What’s so great about that, you know? Everyone’s sister and uncle wearing a Keith Herring t-shirt. Wow, this is great, what a great accomplishment, you know?”
This group of “beautiful losers” were doing such different things that investors flew them to Tokyo, Japan to make as much art on anything and everything they could get their hands on to mass market these individuals’ art. This excursion was caught in Cheryl Dunn’s film, Creative Life Store. Beautiful Losers was one of the most visually pleasing films that opened up a pandora’s box of culture and art that I had never really heard of or thought about. This film shouts to the youth subculture and brings to light a group of people that are the makers of what we see in everyday popular culture.
Written by Rachel Summers
Listening to: Bratmobile’s Ladies, Women and Children and John Legend’s Get Lifted.