In our inaugural episode of Zoomed In, we explore the art of Raymond Pettibon, subject of the New Museum’s massive retrospective, A Pen of All Work. The show commands three full floors of the Lower East Side arts institution and features nearly 800 pieces. It’s a stunning, comprehensive compendium that addresses the big themes in American life: politics, religion and identity—not to mention baseball and rock ’n’ roll.
New Museum Artistic Director Massimiliano Gioni on Raymond Pettibon
Known for a graphic style that melds images and text, Pettibon first rose to international attention as the creative force behind promotional materials for Los Angeles punk luminaries Black Flag. (The artist was born Raymond Ginn; his older brother, Greg, founded Black Flag, along with seminal American indie record label SST). He went on to design visuals on records by the Minutemen, Foo Fighters and Sonic Youth. The latter’s 1990 album, Goo, is an exemplar of the artist’s style. The record’s depiction of two young toughs is inscrutably cool, augmented by the noirish text that accompanies the image: “I stole my sister’s boyfriend. It was all whirlwind, heat, and flash. Within a week we killed my parents and hit the road.”
But this show goes far beyond Pettibon’s punk bona fides. Among the works on display are video pieces, scripts for unfinished films, self-published zines and childhood drawings (some labeled “Ray Ginn, age 7”). Then, of course, there are his works on paper and canvas, arranged by theme and series. Among the most remarkable of these are his surfing paintings—clearly this is a guy who knows his way around a wave—and pop-culture pieces, many of which brim with references to contemporary Americana. (In case you’re wondering: yes, you’ll be able to spot Batman, Ronald Reagan and Charles Manson.)
The sheer volume of Pettibon’s output impresses on its own; in a way, it makes a kind of argument about the artist as a man relentlessly driven to express himself. He might agree. In one small work, a lowercase i sits below the following text: “My head and imagination are full of my own urgent imagery and issues, and it won’t be till I can clear it, alas, that I can do more. But meanwhile I will do I can, however limpingly and clumsily.”
Artist Marcel Dzama on Raymond Pettibon
A Pen of All Work is on view at the New Museum through April 9, 2017.