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. 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 the 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...
Cited: “Biography.” Art: 21. 2005. Public Broadcasting Service. 27 March 2007.
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