I don’t know very much about Raymond Pettibon, except he drew the cover of many Black Flag’s albums and fliers, thriving for years in the punk world. Since the ‘80s, his art has been associated with New York and California’s punk scene, with the creation of album art and posters for groups on his brother Greg Ginn’s label, SST Records. Of course, his most iconic piece has to be Black Flag’s logo, the most tattooed symbol of all time, and seen on shirts at any punk show you will ever attend, while his cover art for Sonic Youth’s 1990 album Goo,’ is an internet meme. However, there is much more to Pettibon than four famous black bars.
Since March, entertainment has been very limited, but some art galleries have reopened, and I decided to check out Raymond Pettibon’s exhibition ‘Pacific Ocean Pop’ at Regen Projects. Some of Pettibon’s work is visible there till the end of October, with RSVP because of strict social distancing practices, but the gallery has been visited by a few celebrities, from Kesha (who apparently visited the gallery an hour later than me, on the same day) and Leo Di Caprio… Pettibon is a hot ticket, and right away, his mostly black and white drawings were jumping in our faces, while crowding the white walls of the spacious gallery.
Pettibon always had a sharp eye, inserting political commentary in simple inky lines, digging out iconic visuals with humor, and often cryptic texts. Well, try to decipher his tweets, his extra-or-missing-letters spelling is unique, his vocabulary erudite, his wordplays often enigmatic, and reading his tweets has never helped me to figure out Pettibon. But his words have always called for as much attention as his drawings.
Without analyzing too much, his satiric work combines a lot of violence, an anti-authoritarian message, and almost nostalgic imagery with scenes evoking film noirs, ‘50s comics, or ‘90s punk zines. Many of his drawings look unfinished, rushed, and rough, whereas others look more polished and detailed, while a lot of it reminds the work of caricaturists of past centuries. If the visuals are incorporating many pop-culture references as diverse as sports, sexuality, religion, westerns, Marvel comics, and surf culture (all these giant ocean waves) most of what I have seen stayed quite mysterious, especially the texts added to many drawings. There was a series of green and red Gumbys, another one with a baseball theme, then guns and cowboys, plenty of animals, dogs, wolves, and horses, while the giant whirl-like Californian waves made some allusions to abstract art. Even though each piece has the look of a cartoon or a caricature, Pettibon’s work is too artsy or too ambiguous for your Sunday newspaper comic strip.
In a post-punk age, Pettibon is an internationally celebrated artist with a very impressive career, and a long list of exhibitions shown worldwide, in the most prestigious venues you can think of, while some of his work is part of the permanent collections of the Museum of Art in Baltimore, the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris, Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart in Berlin, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, the Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Tate in London, it goes on and on. As a renowned artist, Pettibon has certainly exceeded his Black Flag reputation, while the band career ended in a scission, lawsuits, and fights — the two brothers haven’t spoken for decades. As enigmatic Pettibon’s work is, it’s consistently loud, provocative, grotesque, and aggressive, the lines fight with each other on the white page, the black strokes are too abrupt, and the reds are too crude, but his art is as punk as any punk song you know.
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