Raymond Pettibon: The Pen For These Times
Running like an open wound along the razor’s edge between utter despair and blind rage, Raymond Pettibon has come to define alienation with such profound pathos and poetics that, for many, his art makes us feel just a bit less alone in our loneliness.
It is a painful prescience that has delivered this visual and linguistic storyteller from the unlit side of our consciousness at this dark dawning of a brave new world; so, as the rest of the frightened ninnies go to culture seeking solace and healing, let us all rather head over to the New Museum to examine the nature of American anger as it has been methodically dissected, scattered to the winds of metaphor, and sewn like the seeds of doubt by the sharpest shooter of our collective dread.
Surveying the unruly and prolific mass of manic missives he’s been drawing for nearly a half-century now, culled down here to a relatively terse number somewhere over 700, Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work should allow ample opportunity for viewers to experience how the continuous reprisal of subjects and themes throughout this artist’s career has functioned as both a dreamlike leitmotif and an obsessive monomania. That his work can function as both a private demonology and a public display, to be, at times, so achingly personal it hurts and then at others so socially acerbic that it stings, has allowed him to cross over as few of his generation could have imagined. In this he has taken the common language of our national conformity like baseball or surfing, regularly digressed into those hypnotic spaces where mundane matters like trains or clouds transmogrify into existential meditations, and spoken to that utterly American vernacular of loss and longing by which our ongoing ahistorical amnesia fools itself into a set of false nostalgias we call tradition.
It is hard still—even from the vantage point of someone who knew him and his work when his primary vehicle was self-published zines and his greatest notoriety was for how his stupid brother butchered his art to put it on the album covers of a So-Cal hardcore band—to know if we love Pettibon for his cynicism or his sincerity, for speaking the ugly truth to our lies, or for peddling the counterfeit currency of our greatest myths with the seductive grace and guile of a used car salesman. However we choose to love his work, we cannot help but know its importance. Funnier than most, scatterbrained to the limits of genius, and righteous in the sum of his discontent, Raymond is the last resonant voice of our punk provocations still echoing today, an epitome of the countercultural underground from the analog days of yore, before interconnectivity made subculture something of a quaint artifact, and a savage visual critic who got his chops skewering the hypocrisies and pathologies of our “exceptionalism” back in the smiling face of fascism that was Reagan’s shining city on a hill. Never before has noir shown so brightly, and we need it now more than ever. —Carlo McCormick
Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work will be at the New Museum in NYC from February 8–April 16, 2017.