Last Look: Raymond Pettibon Surfers 1987-2012

Apr 03, 2014 - May 17, 2014Venus Over Manhattan, New York City

With Raymond Pettibon's show closing at Venus Over Manhattan this Thursday, here is a last look at some details from the show (thanks twbe).

Since the 1970s, Los Angeles-based artist Raymond Pettibon has been metabolizing America – its history, literature, sports, religion, politics, and sexuality – in a barrage of drawings and paintings in a style born of comic books and the “do-it-yourself” aesthetic of Southern California punk rock album-covers, concert flyers, and fanzines. Limning a dizzying array of topics with his distinctive combinations of image and text, Pettibon has created a vocabulary of symbols that reappear consistently if enigmatically across his oeuvre. These range from baseball players, vixens, light bulbs, and railway trains, to the cartoon character Gumby and infamous murderer Charles Manson: pet themes repeated and reworked in a classically American combination of abundance and monotony. But the most poetic and revealing of Pettibon’s symbols may be the surfer, the solitary longboarder challenging a massive wave. In his “surfer paintings,” viewers find the lyrical heart of Pettibon’s work and ride along with a counter-culture existentialist hero who perhaps is the artist’s nearest proxy.

Beginning April 3, 2014, Venus Over Manhattan will present the first exhibition ever organized to focus exclusively on Raymond Pettibon’s ‘surfer paintings.’ Are Your Motives Pure? Raymond Pettibon Surfers 1987-2012, brings together forty works spanning a quarter century of the artist’s career, on loan from important collections. Among works on view are early small-scale, monochrome India ink paintings; numerous paintings from the 1990s when the artist introduced color to his work; and a group of rare, large-scale paintings measuring up to nearly 10 feet wide – bravura works replete with the fluid dynamism of Pettibon’s line and the enduring potency of a favorite metaphor.

Almost all of the paintings on view at Venus Over Manhattan depict an ocean roiling with beautiful, chaotic swells, accompanied by meandering texts, non-sequiturs, quotations, and bits of poetry in the artist’s handwriting. The exhibition takes its title from the earliest work on view, Untitled (Are Your Motives Pure?), (1987), a black ink painting showing a lone surfer cutting his line across the face of a towering wall of water; above this scene floats the artist’s seemingly rhetorical question. Echoed by two similar compositions from the same year, this small work throws the power of Pettibon’s surfer theme into high relief. The remarkable energy of the ocean and the epic solitude of the man testing it are undiminished by the small dimensions of Pettibon’s picture plane.