No Title (Here and there), 1995
Pen and ink on paper
Private Collection, New York
Are Your Motives Pure?
Raymond Pettibon Surfers 1985 > 2013
Venus Over Manhattan
980 Madison Avenue
New York City | USA
3rd April > 17th May 2014
Stylistically, Raymond Pettibon’s work stems from comic book art, but has little in common with that of Roy Lichtenstein. Besides, much of its content: American history, literature, sports, religion, politics, and sexuality, doesn’t celebrate the images thrown up by capitalism, but rather, is his very personal critique of contemporary life, through which, according to his biography on the Tate’s website, he [seeks] to redefine attitudes toward values in art and culture. He does, however, have super-heroes: the sea is one of them, of which across the top of No Title (The sea, the), 2005, in uncompromising capital letters he writes:
‘THE SEA, THE MOUNTAIN-RIDGE, NIAGARA, AND EVERY FLOWERBED PRE-EXIST, OR SUPER EXIST, IN PRE-CANTATIONS, WHICH SAIL LIKE ODORS IN THE AIR, AND WHEN ANY MAN GOES BY WITH AN EAR SUFFICIENTLY FINE, HE OVERHEARS THEM, AND ENDEAVORS TO WRITE DOWN THE NOTES, WITHOUT DILUTING OR DEPRAVING THEM.’
and the lone surfer is another, of whom on the same painting, below, he scrawls:
‘He is the person in whom all these powers are in the balance, the man without impendiment [sic], who sees and handles that which others dream of, traverses the whole scale of experience, in virtue of being the largest power to receive and impart it.’
No Title (When the surf), 2008
Private Collection via CFA Berlin, Armonk, NY
Akin to the rantings of some Bible-belt preacher, Pettibon’s enigmatic messages often appear almost biblical in tone – and, in presentation, the word / picture ensembles are reminiscent of the work of English painter, engraver and mystic William Blake (1757>1827), who claimed that most of his work as a writer and artist was done under the direct inspiration of spiritual guides. Could Pettibon’s inspiration rise from a similar source? Well, no, the press release for this exhibition, informs us that his prolific output of drawings and paintings stem from the ‘do-it-yourself’ aesthetic of Southern California punk rock album-covers, concert flyers, and fanzines. His brother, Greg Ginn – Pettibon is a pseudonym– was a founder member of West Coast punk band Black Flag, founded in the late 70s. Pettibon, himself, who briefly played bass in the band, came up with its name and designed its logo. However, feeling that the negativity of punk ruined a lot of people’s lives, his heart was never in it, but he retained his links with the music world, designing the cover of Sonic Youth’s album Goo, in 1990.
Much of Pettibon’s visual output looks like the work of someone who never went near an art college, nor sketched a nude in a studio, which is a correct assumption to make – self-trained, he graduated from UCLA in 1977 with a degree in economics, beginning his working life as a maths teacher, before launching his career as an artist – but then you’re taken aback because the drawing, while not on a par with Leonardo da Vinci’s dexterity, exactly, is often fluid and well-observed. On the other hand, the execution can verge on the primitive, and so perhaps Pettibon’s is a kind of idiosyncratic folk art like graffiti – you can almost imagine it appearing overnight scrawled across the walls of an underpass, or the previously pristine screening erected around the construction site of some shiny new high-rise development.
No Title (This left was), 2012
Pen, ink, colored pencil, acrylic, gouache and collage on paper
Courtesy Venus Over Manhattan, New York
It’s unsurprising to find that Pettibon is a serial tweeter (@RaymondPettibon), and here the themes that are integral to his paintings, continue. Unsupported by visuals, his splurge of cryptic, political and sexual statements take on a curious life of their own, and might constitute an ongoing separate body of work. Recent Pettibon tweets include:
My liiver’s fine.How’s yr concience?Fine.Bcuzz u are a sociopath.Swell.
I’m patriotic.I jerked Obama off.
Teach yr children to disrespect cops,stand up to the pussies.They are wicked.
See the Pandas.
!0.5K followers?More than Jim Jones had at Jonestown.
My elbow tube sock.Easy access.Call the shots.
Venus Over Manhattan’s show is the first exhibition to focus exclusively on Raymond Pettibon’s surfer paintings. Are Your Motives Pure? Raymond Pettibon Surfers 1985-2013, brings together forty works spanning a quarter century of the artist’s career. Somewhat contradictorily, it takes its title from the earliest work on view, painted in 1987, but who, in what might be Pettibon’s parlance, gives a f*ck! The artist, born in 1957 in Tucson, Arizona, who lives and works in the beach town of Venice, California, is, however, not a surfer, nor does he consider his paintings ’surfer art’ – as typified by much of the very much slicker examples to be seen on websites such as Club of the Waves.
No Title (The sea, the), 2005
Ink, oil and watercolor on paper
Courtesy Venus Over Manhattan
Since Pettibon’s emergence as an artist in the 1980s his work has been exhibited widely in the USA and internationally. Recent solo exhibitions include David Zwirner Gallery, New York (2013), the Kunstmuseum Luzern, Lucerne (2012), Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna (2006), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2005). His first American museum presentation, organized by The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago in collaboration with the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1998, travelled to The Drawing Center, New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
A participant in numerous group exhibitions worldwide, including at the Istanbul Biennial (2011), Liverpool Biennial (2010), SITE Santa Fe, New Mexico (2010 and 2004), Venice Biennale (2007 and 1999), Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2004, 1997, 1993, and 1991), and documenta XI, Kassel, Germany (2002), his work is held in the permanent collections of, among others, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris,Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Tate Gallery, London; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
Pettibon is represented by Regen Projects in LA, and Sadie Coles in London.
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