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Raymond Pettibon
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Wikipedia About Raymond Pettibon

Raymond Pettibon (born Raymond Ginn on June 16, 1957 in Tucson, Arizona) is an American artist who lives and works in Venice Beach, California. Full Wikipedia Article

essay Raymond Pettibon, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

Raymond Pettibon’s iconoclastic, edgy ink drawings are reminiscent of underground comic-strip panels, pulp-magazine illustrations, or film-noir stills. They gained early recognition in the late 1970s when they appeared on album covers and other printed pieces produced by fringe rock bands such as Black Flag and Sonic Youth. These ventures led him to produce self-published books of his collated images, often crudely drawn, which he photocopied and distributed in small editions.

Since then, Pettibon’s working process has continued to be a cumulative one. Though he received no formal art-school training, he nonetheless admits to learning much from the graphic styles of artists throughout history such as Francisco Goya, William Blake, John Sloan, and Edward Hopper. His pictorial subjects derive from an ongoing archive of disparate images culled from books, magazines, movies, television, and his own notes, which are then recombined or edited to visual fragments. Like frames from a comic strip, Pettibon’s drawings are noteworthy for their economy. Some images appear alone, but most often they are paired with handwritten snippets of text, either the artist’s own, or quotations from Henry James, John Ruskin, Christopher Marlowe, William Faulkner, James Joyce, and other writers to whom he is drawn. “You might consider my work a kind of pulling the writer out of his fictional closet, so to speak,” Pettibon notes.1 Many drawings feature recurring cartoon characters such as Vavoom2 or Gumby, and images such as the book (especially the Bible), the train, the lightbulb, the phallus, the ocean, clouds, and other metaphorically loaded symbols that are significant to him. The convergence of image and language evokes themes ranging from the religious to the erotic to the metaphysical to the political, forming what the artist has referred to as “lyrical” fictions.3

Pettibon’s invented vocabulary draws in part from the city of Los Angeles, where he has lived and worked for most of his life. The mystique of southern California—as a hotbed for popular culture, a surfer’s paradise, a place emblemized as a land where dreams are fulfilled—weaves through much of his work. Like novelist Nathanael West or painter Edward Ruscha before him, however, Pettibon has turned his attention with equal fascination to the melancholia of Los Angeles—a curious microcosm of America itself—where the hyperbolical and utterly banal comfortably coexist.

Pettibon’s works are typically exhibited in groups, sometimes of one hundred or more, and are often pinned directly to the wall. Though he works primarily on loose sheets of paper, he has also assembled groups of pen-and-ink illustrations in unique books, and since the 1990s has incorporated large-scale wall drawings into his installations that often serve as anchors for scatterings of smaller images on paper. The Walker Art Center’s collection of his works forms a compendium of the artist’s abiding interests. Executed on a variety of papers with materials ranging from bold pen and ink to aqueous fields of watercolor, the drawings are sometimes awkward and clumsy, at other times detailed and painterly. When viewed collectively, the pictures and texts form roving, disjointed narratives-by-association that provide an incisive and often illuminating commentary on the character of American culture.

  1. Pettibon, interview with Ulrich Loock, in Ulrich Loock, ed., Raymond Pettibon, exh. cat. (Bern: Kunsthalle Bern, 1995), 85.

  2. Vavoom was a character from the Felix the Cat cartoons.

  3. Quoted in Loock, Raymond Pettibon, 93.

Engberg, Siri. “Raymond Pettibon.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center