The work of artist Raymond Pettibon (American, b.1957) is defined by the marriage, or perhaps at times the collision, of image and text. Blurring the line between high and low culture, tragedy and absurdist comedy, it is the brazen insight into contemporary culture though these unexpected interactions that make his work so compelling.
Pettibon’s early work, from the late 1970s, emerged in conjunction with the California Punk scene. He is the brother of Greg Ginn, a founder of the band Black Flag, and Pettibon drew their album covers and concert flyers, and designed the group’s iconic logo of four vertical bars. He also worked with other bands, including Sonic Youth, the Dead Kennedys, and the Ramones.
By the mid-1980s, Pettibon had earned a dedicated following of collectors, curators, and established Los Angeles artists, such as Mike Kelley (American, 1954–2012) and Ed Ruscha (American, b.1937). His work, which had been produced for and within a largely underground subculture, was now being shown at prestigious museums and galleries. Occupying the potentially awkward role of both indie icon and internationally acclaimed artist, Pettibon nonetheless managed this transition with ease, his work never losing the acerbic wit or provocative power that earned him initial recognition.
Defying both verbal and visual categories, his artistic commentary can be at once caustic and humorous, and is often aimed at issues of religion, politics, sexuality, and contemporary culture. Typically executed with India ink on paper, Pettibon’s work explores Americana with recurring subjects such as baseball players, surf scenes, cars, Gumby, and the cartoon character Vavoom, which each comingle with different text in a candid and potent narrative. Drawing from sources that range from Baudelaire to Charles Manson, his text is always related to the imagery, although the association is often unclear. His most poignant works draw their power from this tension, operating within a lyrical space that eschews straightforward interpretation.
His current exhibition, To Wit, includes over one hundred new drawings and collages, and is on view at David Zwirner through October 26, 2013.