Drawn and disorderly
Sacramento’s alternative drawing groups foster a countercultural arts community rooted in pop culture, oddball inspiration and good friends
Just a few years ago, Sacramento artists suffered a lack of places to practice sketching zombies, superheroes and other weird characters of their own imagining—at least, not in an acceptable public setting with other like-minded individuals.
These days, however, there are four such groups, each of which attracts a bevy of comic-book illustrators, tattoo artists, video-game developers, counterculture painters and people who simply love to draw.
Each is distinct in its approach, yet what connects them—intentional or not—is a collective affinity toward “lowbrow” art, the underground movement that rejects the restrictions of fine art and instead embraces pop culture and more loosely defined “disposable” art forms such as comics.
Ben Walker founded the area’s first alternative drawing group, Pompsicle, in 2007. Since then, Draw Club, Drink and Draw, and SketchBomb have followed suit, each group fostering a casual atmosphere that focuses on a freewheeling vibe as much as it does form and process.
Indeed, Ryan Cicak, Pompsicle’s current leader, describes his group as one rooted in a “fun, relaxing environment.”
“We are not pent up in our studios, torturing ourselves over the creations of our work,” said Cicak. “It’s more like, ‘Let’s hang out and make this an art party.’”
Walker initially started Pompsicle as a response to the nude figure-drawing classes he’d taken in art school. The approach: Upend the classical format by bringing in models dressed in weird and eclectic outfits—alien vampires, roller-derby girls, ghost pirates, whatever offbeat idea he could think of.
“When you’re drawing nudes, it’s more about the artistry and this timeless subject manner of the nude body,” Walker said. “People who are interested in that are more interested in capturing humanity and have a more realistic approach. … Clothed figure drawing [is] more for people who are interested in illustration, comic books and creating characters.”
The concept was a hit, with the group meeting monthly at various galleries. Pompsicle disbanded in early 2010, however, after Walker moved to San Francisco. Then, near the end of 2011, Walker visited
Sacramento and decided to round up some of his regulars, including Cicak, for a one-off session. It went over so well, Walker asked his friend if he’d like to continue on his own.
Cicak did—but with a few ideas in mind.
“Pompsicle is so fundamentally weird, fun and different—it was what I was looking for,” he said. “I wanted to keep the structure the same. But I wanted to change the scope.”
Now, though, the group follows a similar format. It still meets regularly, gathering on the last Thursday of each month at Bows & Arrows (1815 19th Street), and Cicak still brings in alternative, clothed models—he said he also tries to encourage a true counterculture arts community, making it a point to inform group members of other local offbeat art events.
“One of my goals is to embrace the weird culture in Sacramento, and let people know that just beyond this session … there’s a bunch of other really weird things going on in town,” Cicak said. “Knowing that there are other people … who have similar ideas about what art is is great, because if you go to a gallery in Sacramento, very often [you just see] a lot of abstracts or landscapes.”
There’s a reason for that, Cicak added. Most of the artists who attend these groups rarely have their work featured in local, mainstream galleries because the style is considered lowbrow.
The lowbrow-art movement, which started in Los Angeles in the late ’70s, mashes together comic-book art, punk rock, pop culture, soft-core porn, sci-fi, and other odd subcultures in strange and creative ways. Although it’s grown steadily in popularity over the years with magazines such as Juxtapoz and Hi-Fructose showcasing its works, it’s nonetheless deemed subpar by many art critics.
“The lowbrow art scene is not exactly going to be in [a] museum of fine art. Everybody [in it is] more in that graphic-novel culture,” Cicak said. “Kids that grew up on comic books—this is their processing of all that cultural stimuli.”
Some, however, consider the term “lowbrow” demeaning. Sacramento artist Jared Konopitski, who frequents several of these groups, said he prefers the term “newbrow.”
“People in the highbrow art scene started saying, ‘Oh, it’s lowbrow,’ so it got labeled lowbrow,” Konopitski said. “It was derogatory, so a lot of folks started saying it’s not lowbrow, it’s just newbrow.”
Either way, one important element that separates them from the mainstream is that in the lowbrow scene, even comic books, tattoos and video games are considered great works of art.
Tomas Overbai, co-founder of the monthly Draw Club, said it’s all about personal perspective.
“Even though I am drawing Superman, to me, that’s as artistic as the ‘Mona Lisa,’” he said. “There had been
Superman stories that have brought people to tears and that have stirred emotions greater than any fine-art stuff that you find.”
Formed in 2009 by Hainanu Saulque and Corey Bernhardt as an offshoot to a Los Angeles-based drawing group, Drink and Draw was the first group to emerge in Sacramento after Pompsicle. Now the group meets every third Thursday of each month at Fox & Goose (1001 R Street).
Here, the atmosphere is far less formal than Pompsicle’s and, notably, doesn’t include models—just booze and sketch pads. Artists draw whatever they feel like drawing, and, Saulque said, it’s as focused on community as it is on creativity.
“The idea [of] the get-together [is to] hang out with like-minded people and have a drink [and] get away from life in general and spend time drawing,” Saulque explained.
Saulque runs another sketch group as well. SketchBomb, which formed in 2011 as an offshoot of a San Francisco group, meets on the last Tuesday of each month at Bows & Arrows. Here, attendees participate in different timed themed-drawing exercises—the stranger the concept the better.
“It pushes you to do things you don’t normally do. We might [present] an idea like, ‘Draw a cat that’s an astronaut and likes to ride on unicorns’—then you’d have 10 minutes,” Saulque said.
Sacramento’s newest sketch meet-up group, Draw Club, is the least formal of them all.
The name is a nod to Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. Formed in late 2011, it meets Thursdays at Great Escape Games (1250 Howe Avenue, Suite 3A).
The group was co-founded by Overbai with Brad Montgomery, Shane Murphy, Josh Baker and Sarah R. Straub who were, Overbai explained, weary of setting up any parameters.
“When it first started, we wanted to just create our own rules,” he said. “It’s almost like there aren’t any rules. It can be anything you want it to be.”
Now, as more of these alternative sketch groups pop up, they’ve done more than just serve as inspiration: They’ve helped to connect local lowbrow artists.
“The force of us all helps the heat of the movement, because we know that there are a lot of other people producing this kind of work,” Cicak said.
And that, in turn, cultivates further inspiration, Konopitski said.
“You get them all together, they’re just sitting there and laughing and drawing, and you realize that creativity is creativity,” he said. “Even if nothing happens one night, people are able to take that encouragement on their own to other art endeavors.”