That kid in the back of the class who obsessively doodles superheroes, space cowboys or cat-eared anime cuties? He or she is unlikely to grow up to be tomorrow’s Michelangelo, or even Salvador Dali. Contemporary art is more concerned with aesthetic concepts and social issues than draftsmanship and real cool stuff.
There is a realm, however, for aspiring artists who celebrate (and sometimes desecrate) pop-culture images. Shane Pomajambo calls it “lowbrow.”
The entrepreneur’s local empire began in 2007 with Art Whino, now located at National Harbor. The gallery shows art inspired by comics, animation, graffiti, skateboarding, video games and such, an exuberant mashup to which Pomajambo says he’s addicted. (Hence “whino.”) A fine example of the genre is “Vivid Visions: The Art of Kim Jung Gi,” now on display at Blind Whino, another Pomajambo project. (The “blind” is from “blind pig,” Prohibition-era slang for a speakeasy.)
The Southwest D.C. building, a deconsecrated 19th-century church, would stand out simply for being one of the few structures to survive the neighborhood’s 1950s urban renewal initiatives. Pomajambo and partner Ian Callender commissioned Atlanta artist Alex Brewer (known as Hense) to cover the exterior in a colorful pop-surrealist mural.
When it opened in 2013, Blind Whino displayed art, but didn’t have regular hours. It was used more as an event space, just like the large former storefront Pomajambo recently rented at Seventh and H streets NE. (He used it last month to stage his sixth “G40 Art Summit,” a massive lowbrow showcase.)
Beginning with “Vivid Visions,” Blind Whino will operate more like a traditional art space. The proprietors even painted the display area white, typical of art galleries but austere by the standards of the building’s multi-colored exterior.
Since the days of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, fine art has often borrowed from commercial art. It has also kept a distance, mostly by means of irony. Kim Jung Gi, though, is a commercial artist.
His show includes finished pages from comic books, with all the dialogue in Korean save for the occasional English-language profanity. He also does animation and spot illustrations. This is the artist’s first solo exhibition in the United States, but he often travels abroad, and his books of sketches sell widely.
Kim uses a comic-book style in his gallery-oriented work, but sometimes combines it with other traditions, notably those of Edo-period Japanese woodblock prints and East Asian ink painting. The artist doesn’t wield a brush, preferring felt-tip and ballpoint pens. But his tigers, samurai and geisha resemble the work of centuries-old painters and engravers.
Some Koreans regard Japan, their country’s former occupier, with suspicion. Yet Kim clearly loves Korea’s neighbor to the south, and not just because of samurai. His renderings here include one of a Tokyo subway train interior and another of a Japanese tempura bar.
Like most of Kim’s work, the detailed sketches are principally in black and white. Yet these are accented with color: yellow for the restaurant lighting and a tiny, full-color rendering of a smartphone screen in the subway vignette.
Kim works from memory, without making preliminary sketches or referring to photographs. He also draws quickly, sometimes speed sketching for an audience. For the opening of this show, Kim executed a large montage across three canvas panels, mixing samurai with “Star Wars” characters. (He is likely aware that George Lucas modeled much of the “Star Wars” series on samurai movies.)
Aside from appropriating copyrighted characters, Kim’s riskiest move is indulging his id. His drawings are full of sexualized women, often unencumbered by clothing, and placed alongside asexual robots or soldiers in heavy combat gear. Nude women metamorphosize into wolves — a timeworn symbol for desire — or tumble through the air in a drawing studio, apparently to suggest what truly occupies the artists’ minds as they work.
Mixing pinup art, science fiction and various kinds of war movies makes for some odd juxtapositions, but those don’t add up to commentary. All Kim shows is that he likes certain things, and likes drawing them. You could call that “lowbrow,” or something considerably less flattering.
The guy can really draw, though.
Blind Whino, 700 Delaware Ave. SW.
Open: Wednesday-Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. Exhibition runs through Jan. 2.