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Raymond Pettibon / MATRIX 151

July 1, 1992 - September 1, 1992

Untitled, 1992

Download the exhibition brochure (PDF).

"Disciplined by the artist to go round & round..."
-William Carlos Williams1

"Hold back the edge of your gowns, Ladies, we going through hell."
-William Carlos Williams2

Raymond Pettibon's drawings occupy the gallery like a whirlwind. Images and words seem to fly about like the barnyard animals that spun past Dorothy as she cycloned out of Kansas. Gumby, Superman, Joan Crawford, Babe Ruth, Jesus Christ, the Bible, Felix the Cat, as well as pictures of a swinging light bulb, a locomotive, a baseball player, a starburst, and a shadowy phallus appear and reappear throughout the artist's installation. The artist's sketchy, shorthand style contributes to the overall dizzying effect.

Each image typically shares the page with a handwritten text. Alternately laconic and garrulous, these texts, like the images, derive both from Pettibon's own imagination as well as from various appropriated sources. Pettibon's literary quotations, however, come less from the kind of pop culture that provides much of his imagery than from the heady realm of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Ruskin, Henry James, and James Joyce. Frequently Pettibon employs what the writer Amy Gerstler has called "a self-conscious literary 19th century hybrid poetic diction ('JOINED WITH THE INFLICTION OF GRIEVOUS SIGHT BEFORE THE INFLICTION OF GRIEVOUS BLINDNESS THAT SO THE LAST SIGHT OF THIS WORLD'S LIGHT MUST REMAIN A GRIEF.')"3

"Most of my work is concerned with literature...rather than with personal life or anything else," says Pettibon. "I quote and I write. It's almost a way of reading in art. The ideas, at first, came between the sentences, rather than as a quote. It's as though I were making a response-a dialectic of reading."4

Stylistically, Pettibon's fluid quoting and intuitive collaging of images, phrases, and themes places him squarely in the Modernist tradition of Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Kurt Schwitters, and Robert Rauschenberg. Like these artists and writers, Pettibon creates an art in dynamic interchange between visuality and language. His heterogeneous approach requires a certain involvement on the part of the reader/viewer. "The work is supposed to be finished by the reader," Pettibon has said. "I'm meeting them halfway but it's supposed to expand from the small scene on the paper. It's a starting point towards creating a world in the imagination."5

The more time one spends with Pettibon's drawings the more clearly certain primary themes-mortality, fate, and existential solitude-emerge. Rather than being undermined by Pettibon's apparently off-hand execution and whimsical subject matter, the seriousness of these issues is forced into a darkly humorous reconciliation with the commonness of everyday life. In one drawing, for example, the artist depicts a reflective, cigarette-smoking chimp with a re-worded line from the children's book Curious George, "And now I was sorry that God had made me a monkey."

This absurdist and acerbic aesthetic is what links Pettibon's gallery pictures to his involvement with the Los Angeles punk scene. Besides contributing drawings for the covers of albums by Black Flag, Sonic Youth, and the Minutemen, Pettibon has made several videos on such "subcultural" themes such as Charles Manson and Patty Hearst, a.k.a. Citizen Tania. His most recent tape, titled Sir Drone: A New Beatles Film About the New Beatles-Love is God Is Boredom, stars the artist Mike Kelley as a wannabe punk rocker reluctant to give up his surfboard and hippie-style hair. Since 1978, the ever prolific Pettibon has published numerous limited-edition photocopy books incorporating his drawings and song lyrics. His own band, Super Session, featuring Mike Kelley on guitar, has recently recorded an album on the independent label Blast First.

Raymond Pettibon was born in 1957 in Tucson, Arizona. He lives and works in Hermosa Beach, California.

Lawrence Rinder

1 William Carlos Williams, "The Wedding Dance in the Open Air" from Pictures from Breughel and Other Poems (New York: New Directions, 1962), p. 10.
2 William Carlos Williams, Introduction to Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1959), pp. 7-8.
3 Amy Gerstler, "Raymond Pettibon, Robert Berman Gallery," Artforum, March 1992, p. 114.
4 Raymond Pettibon, quoted in "Drawn to Words" by Hunter Drohojowska, Los Angeles Times, 16 June 1991, p. 92.
5 Ibid.

MATRIX is supported in part by grants from the Paul L. and Phyllis Wattis Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council, the T. B. Walker Foundation, and Jack Hanley and Alexandra Bowes.