Long Gone John collects things: stuffed animals Edward Gorey sewed himself, big-eyed Margaret Keane dolls from the 1950s, prescription pill bottles that once belonged to famous people (he owns Debbie Harry's Prozac). Though John is the mastermind behind Sympathy For the Record Industry–a gonzo label that has released music by Suicide, The White Stripes, and Hole–it's his elevation of kitsch to high art that is the subject of a new documentary, The Treasures of Long Gone John, and a recent art exhibition, Pictures of the Gone World, at Santa Ana, CA's Grand Central Art Center.
"John comes from this no-holds-barred embrace of what is typically shunned or considered bad taste," says director Gregg Gibbs, a former production designer for Rob Zombie videos, of his subject's punk-rock approach to art collecting. Though Gibbs originally intended to make a biopic, Long Gone John's reclusiveness and voracious love of underground pop art led the film in a different direction. "It's really about this bigger art movement that's going on. John plays the host–the human foundation of the subculture," says Gibbs, who interviewed artists including Frank Kozik, Takashi Murakami, Camille Rose Garcia, and Gary Baseman for the movie.
"This artwork falls outside the traditional European lineage of Giotto to Da Vinci to Vermeer to minimalism," says Gibbs. "Many of these artists' lineage starts with WWII fighter pilots painting their planes and hot rods, the psychedelic posters of the '60s and surf culture and punk rock; they've been nurtured in these subcultures in America. Their work appeals to the average Joe in America, [the kind of person who] is not allowed [by the art establishment] to figure out why Jeff Koons' vacuum cleaner is a piece of 'art.' These artists make art accessible to everyone."
With The Treasures, Gibbs has done a commendable job of documenting the modern-day 'low-brow' art scene, but you don't have to know your Shag from your Mark Ryden to enjoy the movie, or its coda: a 20-minute short called The Gone World where LGJ narrates his collection in his own nihilistic stream-of-consciousness style.