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'Robert Williams Mr. Bitchin': How one low brow artist changed the art world

Robert Williams painting that was supposed to be used for the cover of Guns 'N Roses
Robert Williams painting that was supposed to be used for the cover of Guns 'N Roses "Appetite for Destruction" album, but it was considered too vulgar.
Robert Williams
Robert Williams painting that was supposed to be used for the cover of Guns 'N Roses
Robert Williams painting called "Pansies."
Robert Williams
Robert Williams painting that was supposed to be used for the cover of Guns 'N Roses
"Mr. Bitchin'" looks at the life and work of artist Robert Williams.

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You may not have heard of Robert Williams, but you've likely seen his "Low Brow" art aesthetic. He's the man behind the controversial album art that was once supposed to be used by Guns 'N Roses on their "Appetite for Destruction" record.

Williams, who has been making art in southern California for the past 50 years, paints complicated images and explores all sorts of themes, from hot rods and carnival culture to man's greed and the idea of a fifth dimension.

Now Williams is the subject of a documentary called "Robert Williams Mr. Bitchin'" which recently won Best Documentary at Comic-Con. 

Robert Williams joins Take Two to talk about his controversial art, his career and what he thinks about the current art scene in California. 

Interview Highlights:

Why is California such an epicenter for ground-breaking and new forms of art:
"On an academic level, New York developed a European sophistication after the Second World War. All the large cities over the United States emulated New York for their municipal museums and sophistication. California failed, and created a whole new opportunity for people with imagination. They began developing their art culture in the '50s, and in the interim a lot of sub-arts started developing.

"You had Hot-Rod culture, surfer culture, you had underground comics and rock movie posters. In 1946, the art community had taken up with abstract expressionism and conceptualism and minimalism, which really cut out the ability for draftsmanship and craftsmanship. So you had a lot of talented people who were not comfortable in the art world who wanted to express themselves, so they found these sub-arts to go into."

What is your creative process for making art:
"I sit down and come up with 10 or 15 ideas. Eight of them are useless ideas, but they express some sort of thought. I cull out what seems to be useful in there, and go back to what I did 10 days ago, eight months ago, five years ago, and see if these have any harmony or rhythm with what I just thought up. I go through a lot of stuff that has to be thrown out or segregated or isn't politically correct or doesn't work with the color scheme.

"It's a matter of having a whole lot of notes I've written down, and referencing back over the years to find out what would be poetic. My premise for imagination is to hook the onlooker on looking into the picture, whether he likes it or not. And if he gets his interest stimulated, he'll look for another picture you've done." 

On his controversial Guns N' Roses "Appetite for Destruction" album cover:
"Women are beautiful, and the image of women is the foundation of the concept of beauty. Is there questions of nudity in my picture? Yes. There's a cheapness and an expediency in my picture. I'm a fellow who's not big on big breasts, but I render big-breasted women because they're 'easy-read'. Because nincompoops can read them quick.

"I'm doing this in the wrong period of history. I've had so many feminists that disagree with me. I've had death threats out of Minnesota, I could be battered down and caved in, but I've had a large number of women come to my defense about this, so I rest my case."

On the creation of Juxtapoz Magazine:
"In 1994, there were enough artists like myself that me and some friends developed the magazine, because none of the art magazines would show interesting art. All the art magazines were long, drawn-out written theses on art, and they were boring. Art forum, Art News, Art in America, they just were dry. They needed a magazine that had something on the artists, the art featured prominently, and where you could enjoy the art. Within 10 or 12 years, Juxtapoz Magazine was the number-one selling art magazine in the world, so it has an audience and if nothing else, my existence here has been some aid."

On 'low-brow' art today:
"Every art movement started out on the bottom and worked its way to the top. Conceptualism started out 100 years ago as Dada, a sloppy, goofy form of art for psychopaths. Now it dominates the world. The bottom always comes up from the top. The young people have picked up the situation, and water will find its own level... There's always going to be a heavy conservative tone on the arts, but underneath it is a storm. This storm is brewing heavy and fast, and when it busts open, all the people that tried to hold it down are claiming they're a part of it."