Art 21: Raymond Pettibon

Punk rock, cartoon-like and text heavy are some common descriptors of cotemporary artist Raymond Pettibon’s work. His work throughout the last twenty five years is a compilation of image and text that has been influenced by previous artists and influences many newer artists as well. The artist known as Raymond Pettibon was born Raymond Ginn in Tucson, Arizona in 1957 the fourth of five children. He got the nickname Pettibon from his father a child and then changed it as an adult. He earned a degree in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1977.

While at UCLA, he started his artistic career being a political cartoonist for the school’s newspaper. After graduating from college, he became a high school math teacher and shortly after launched his career as an artist doing works in pen and ink such as album covers and flyers that were influenced by underground Los Angeles punk rock bands such as his brother’s band Black Flag (Duncan). His first solo exhibit was in New York in 1989 at Feature. Currently, Pettibon still lives and works in the Los Angeles area in Hermosa Beach, California.

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Pettibon has become internationally known as a contemporary American artists working with drawing, text, and artist’s books. Pettibon’s work from the early 1980s consisted of relatively small black-and-white, single-frame cartoons coupled with sometimes illegible scribbled writing (Levine). Throughout the 1980s his subject matter broadened and the drawings became larger, more complex and colorful, with numerous voices and handwritings competing for the viewer’s attention. In the 1990s, Pettibon began to move away from his smaller works on paper and started creating wall-sized drawings and collages.

Throughout the mid to late 1990s, Pettibon continued to complicate his work and its messages. His recent drawings now include heavy doses of watercolor, making his painterly qualities more apparent. He has also become much more expressionistic with his use of the dripping technique (Levin). His work has been displayed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Santa Monica Museum of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. In 2002, an exhibition of his drawings, “Plots Laid Thick,” was organized by the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Spain, and then moved to the Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery, and he Haags Gemeentemuseum in the Netherlands. Pettibon’s work was also featured at Documenta XI in Kassell, Germany (Biography). The majority of Pettibon’s work consists of cartoon-like figures and scenes with text that is usually meant to be funny. Text is often a crucial element of the comic book styling of his drawings. His works are comprised of a variety of different subjects and themes that are reminiscent of nineteenth-century literature and contemporary pop culture.

He draws upon a wide variety of literary sources, such as Henry James, Mickey Spillane, Marcel Proust, William Blake and Samuel Beckett, and many others for inspiration for his work (Biography). He has said, “I don’t think there is a subject matter to consider too important to use humor (Sollins). ” Sometimes using sarcastic remarks and sometimes just blunt language, Pettibon uses his text to add humor to his work. The subject of his work varies, but the messages they convey should not be over interpreted as his forced opinions on a viewer, that “would really be talking down to people (Sollins). He does not believe that art is the proper medium to express his beliefs or opinions on important or controversial subjects, but sometimes they come across regardless. Pettibon is known for using the same figures or characters repeatedly in many different works, but denies that they have any importance or meaning. He does not research what character would be correct for the text, and sometimes the text and the characters in his work seem to have no relation. He has said that “it’s not something that… (even) after I may have drawn certain subjects a number of times, that I’m obsessed with or dwell on as the subject matter (Sollins). Gumby for example, is a reoccurring figure in Pettibon’s work. In works such as fig. 1 No Title (There is a Touch of Poetry…) Gumby is the main figure. “Gumby is a kind of metaphor for how I work. He actually goes into the book, goes into a biography or historical book, interacts with real figures from the past, and he becomes part of it. He brings it to another direction. And I tend to do that in my work says Pettibon (Biography). ” He wants this figure to be seen in the same respect that a Greek statue or historical figure would get, not just as a cartoon image.

He says that Gumby not only represents his work, but it also represents him as an alter ego, so in each of the works that have the character there is a part of him. In his No Title (There is a Touch of Poetry…), the claymation star Gumby, originally created by Art Clokey, levitates alone with a shadow under him and a caption above him. The character itself was a rubber-eraser hero of the 1950s children’s television show, who is gifted with the supernatural ability to slide through the covers of books and take part in storybook adventures.

Gumby’s interaction with fiction, usually rewriting it to include himself, is one of the aspects that appeals to Pettibon. Because writing is a major part of Pettibon’s work, he wants his text to be as fluent as possible. His caption reads, “There is a touch of poetry in the figure of Gumby, but I think there is a weak spot in his history. Unless indeed we read into it (Sollins). ” Here Pettibon relates to Gumby in his relation to poetry and history and references Gumby’s character that inserts himself into history through books.

Like Gumby, another of Pettibon’s comic alter egos is the character Vavoom, based on a minor character in the TV version of the comic strip “Felix the Cat (Duncan). ” Vavoom is a cloaked urchin with a huge gaping mouth that blasts out only his name who is usually alone in a vast area. Vavoom’s earth-shattering voice serves as a parody of Pettibon’s role as an eccentric writer who wants to be heard. “When I’m doing drawings of Vavoom I create a situation of putting him in this epic, sublime, romantic landscape and he is this little guy with a booming voice.

It’s a perspective that has this panoramic scope to it,” says Pettibon (Sollins). Vavoom can be seen as a romantic writer, with the innocence of youth and the ability to be both mighty and destructive. Images of Vavoom sometimes seem to be a self-portrait of Pettibon, depicting a young man, who spoke in blank verse and overflowed with metaphor like in No Title (Pardon Me, But) (fig. 2). No Title (Pardon Me, But) features the cartoon character Vavoom accompanied by a fragmented passage that references themes of nature and inspiration.

Though the caption has a comic book like structure, it complicates the meaning of the image that the work accompanies because there are many colors and a lot of movement in the background. The juxtaposition of text against such a busy background encourages the viewer to consider many alternate modes of interpretation of the work as a whole. Characters such as Gumby and Vavoom are clearly a part of Pettibon’s canon, along with an assortment of surfers, trains and many others. Living in southern California has had a lot of influence over the subjects in Pettibon’s work.

He has said that the subject is not usually anything of great meaning or importance, but each work he does seems to represents a part of him or one of his interests (Sollins). One of his interests he has done many works of is surfers and great waves such as his No Title (Well You Needn’t) (fig. 3). In this work Pettibon uses lines of many different shades of blue watercolor to create the massive wave. This is one of his later works where the dripping of his medium is quite visible. Pettibon says, “There’s so many marks and gestures and accidents and starting and stopping and starting over again.

And all those can affect the work in a lot of ways. And when that happens, I tend to welcome it. One line can change a work (Sollins). ” Here the accidents, drips and other marks have contributed to what makes it so appealing. Though the wave in this work is so massive in comparison to the surfer, it is not frightening because of the light colors and loose hand of the artist. Pettibon’s reoccurring subject of trains also has a connection to where he lives on the west coast. He has said that trains “are about bringing the continent, the shores, together, about going west.

At that time we still had vast frontiers left, so it’s about the opportunity of escape. Even when I was a kid, when I heard the train at night I wasn’t necessarily aching to run away from home and find my fortune elsewhere, but I guess every American kid had that somewhere in his mind, kind of embedded. Like the equivalent of running off and joining the circus. ” Though his statement implies his images of trains are not a dark subject matter, many of his train works have a sad or angry feeling about them from their dark colors.

His work No Title (I Must Tell) has a much darker feeling because of the large amount of dark colors, the strong linear lines, and the heavy brush stroke in the sky(fig. 4). The train is shown running down hill off the tracks with a car crashing into the side of it. The many short stroke black lines give it some depth but also give it the appearance that it could be moving because the lines used to shade it are directionally the same as the form of it. Another work that portrays an angry emotion is his No Title (It Sure Helps) (fig. ). His use of thick dark lines and black writing that overlaps the character’s bodies as well as the wincing painful look on the front figure’s face makes this work almost painful to observe. This monochromatic contour drawing references his homosexuality through his image and words, but his text also discusses his skinhead punk rock history. The text has very aggressive language as well as an aggressive yet sad message. It refers to a punk who dances in a mosh pit and gets bet up and still wants to get back out there to do it again.

Other parts of the text suggest violence and hate from someone that is talking down to him. Pettibon intentionally let the text overtake this work. When describing his work No Title (It Sure Helps), he says: “There’s writing that is everything planned. You have some idea, some philosophy, some story—narrative—whatever you want to express, that you want to get down on paper, and whatever literary devices or techniques you have at your command with the intent to express that. But there is also writing that is more open, more associational, and even accidental.

You don’t necessarily know where it’s going to go while you’re doing it (Sollins). ” Most of Pettibon’s starkly black and white drawings have an aggressive look to them like No Title (It Sure Helps) does, but his other works such as his surfer, Gumby and Vavoom works all seem to have a liter tone. His greatest accomplishment is the comprehensive way he fuses words and images on paper, turning them into something new; not cartoon, illustration, illumination or literature, but a collaborative form of art derived from poetry, philosophy and rebellion. The mixture of his words and images create a beautiful unified work.

Raymond Pettibon as a contemporary artist is putting a new spin on some older ideas. 1960s Pop art is an apparent influence in his early works where he uses comic book like images and text and references well known figures or characters. As his work has progressed though, he has started to work with more water colors instead of just ink, and using a looser, more expressionistic hand that reflects a more abstract expressionistic influence. As his work continues to progress, he will probably continue to build off of previous artist’s influences and expand their ideas into his work.

Works Cited “Biography. ” Art: 21. 2005. Public Broadcasting Service. 27 March 2007. Duncan, Michael. “Pettibon’s Talking Pictures – artist Raymond Pettibon” Art inAmerica. March 1999. Find Articles. 27 March 2007. Levine, Cary. “Raymond Pettibon at Zwirner and David Zairner – Two Exhibitions of Pettibon’s Drawings. ” Art in America. June 2003. Brant Publications, Inc. : 2003. Find Articles. 27 March 2007. ; http://www. findarticles. com/p/articles/mi_m1248/is_6_91/ai_102793148; Sollins, Susan. “Raymond Pettibon. ” Art:21 Art in the Twenty-First Century.

Book 2. Raymond Pettibon. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. : New York, 2005. 148-159. Fig. 1. Raymond Pettibon No title (There is a touch of poetry…) 1997-2001 Collection of Zoe and Joel Dictrow, New York Fig. 2. Raymond Pettibon No Title (Pardon Me, But…) 2005 Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego Fig. 3 Raymond Pettibon No Title (Well You Needn’t), detail 1997-2001 David Zwirner Gallery, New York Fig. 4 Raymond Pettibon No title (I must tell) 2002 Regen Projects, Los Angeles Fig. 5 Raymond Pettibon No Title (It Sure Helps) 2002 Projects, Los Angeles

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Art 21: Raymond Pettibon. (2018, Jan 25). Retrieved from