Hopscotch from the Warhol generation past the Basquiat/Haring bunch and you land on the like-minded artists at the Lower East Side’s Alleged Gallery in the ’90s. They shared an eye for flat areas of bold color — often accompanied by text that subverted the image (or vice versa) — and a disregard for the borders between art and propaganda, or between childish and sophisticated. Since the gallery’s demise, owner Aaron Rose has showcased the gang in a traveling exhibition and a book. Now there’s a documentary directed with Joshua Leonard, an energized group portrait whose accessibility is abetted by the artists’ collectively keen sense of humor. (“Funny can be the best sledgehammer,” says Mike Mills.)
The Losers’ art grew from DIY subcultures: fanzines, graffiti, skateboarding. What inspired them to create? A feeling of not belonging is the common denominator. (Jo Jackson savors the girlhood memory of turning from “a regular freak” into “a cool freak.”) Spraycan art, with its outlaw allure, was a turn-on for Barry McGee, Stephen Powers, and Margaret Kilgallen (shown illustrating train cars). The Alleged got its initial burst of publicity when its 1992 show of painted skateboards was covered in Thrasher and invited to LA.
A montage of articles about such members as Shepard Fairey (of “Obey Andre the Giant” notoriety), Ed Templeton, and Harmony Korine opens the sticky subject of success. Some recoil from fame; most embrace it, especially the international attention. But there’s a weird edge to a clip of the artists in Tokyo, where they’ve painted Demolition Derby cars: is this celebration abroad of American trash culture a joke on them? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Geoff McFetridge’s animated art became a Pepsi commercial on his terms. Powers was asked to paint on his equivalent of the Sistine Chapel, the Cyclone at Coney Island. And Mills states that by creating a Volkswagen commercial, he was “getting back at all the tanned, blond motherfuckers who wouldn’t talk to me.