Between February and April of this year, New York City’s New Museum hosted three floors’ worth of work from Tucson, Arizona-born artist Raymond Pettibon, and Phaidon (in association with the museum) published a brand-new monograph that includes a recent interview with him. Among the more than eight hundred drawings that the show’s curators Gary Carrion-Murayari and Massimiliano Gioni featured in “Raymond: Pettibon: A Pen of All Work,” there were stapled zines, gargantuan works of sober political art with the campaign to sell the Iraq War in its crosshairs, and scores of graphic illustrations. The larger part of one of the institution’s walls was tiled with just under 70 comics pages and comics art-inflected ink drawings.
Like a lot of tenth graders, I found Pettibon’s work because of the album covers and logo he created for California punk band Black Flag (founder Greg Ginn is the artist’s brother and reportedly a thieving, capitalist egomaniac), and to a greater degree, his striking fliers for the band’s shows. Indebted equally to film noir, pulp magazine illustrations, and underground comics, the handbills that littered my cassette liner notes for Black Flag’s The First Four Years, Everything Went Black, and elsewhere were often violent, grotesque, and carnal. They felt raw and urgent, like the fast and driving sounds on the records themselves. Pettibon’s black-inked scenes are inseparable from the profound effect that punk and hardcore had on me as a teenager. For better or for worse, I was in a new club, and these frenetic drawings led the way.
I was entirely overwhelmed by nostalgia in absorbing the wealth of comics pages and pugnacious album art at the museum — at one point I think I nearly fainted at the thought of all the years that have gone by since I first encountered this work, and where I was in my life when I had. But we’d also grown a bit exhausted at the breadth of the presentation and probably, all it required of us. We were grateful for the respite we found in a room devoted to Pettibon’s lush, large-scale surfing paintings.
In a welcome deluge of color, here was an opening to come up for air amid all of the text-heavy visuals and harsh pen strokes. Pettibon never actually took to surfing, but he was raised in Hermosa Beach, California, and his proximity to the sea and its devoted longboarders positioned him snugly within a prime perch for an exploration of the sport. The solemn figure of the lone surfer, navigating nature in all of her muscular aquatic glory, has for years been a theme for him and fits well within his provocative endeavors to illuminate specific corners of American counterculture. At the New Museum, eleven of these works converged in one of the rooms’ corners, a completely enveloping tide of greens and denim blues tucked under curling, cotton-like sea foam.
“I used to have dreams—almost nightmares—of waves that were so big, and being caught inside,” Pettibon told Surfer‘s Jamie Brisick in 2011. “It was like a washing machine, and as far as you could dive down, you still get your eyes full of sand and you’re still being tossed and turned. It’s been many years since I’ve had those dreams and nightmares. I don’t dream much anymore, but that one was recurrent.”
Images © Raymond Pettibon, “Untitled (The view from beyond the breakers),” c. 1988. “No Title (Outside! caught inside),” c. 2007.