Raymond Pettibon, No Title (He is looking…). All images via Sadie Coles.
Now through August 20th a collection of new work by Raymond Pettibon is on view at Sadie Coles HQ in London. Pettibon’s iconographic illustrations of quintessentially American landscapes, objects and attitudes fill the gallery space with motion and color. Snippets of poetic and abstract text overlay the images, lending the exhibition a suggestion of narrative logic. The title of this show, Bakersfield to Barstow to Cucamonga to Hollywood maps a trajectory across California, the site of Pettibon’s emergence as a visual artist in the Los Angeles punk scene of the 1980s.
The themes woven into this exhibition are consistent with many of those addressed by the artist in the past including the macabre and twisted images of the growth of American industry. Pettibon is considered one of the contemporary artists most intimately engaged with depicting and deconstructing the dark side of modern America. From the mechanization of movement to representations of the sublime to the problem of portraiture, this exhibition represents terrain that is at once new and familiar for Pettibon. These works are composed in the familiar stark monochrome and comic book-style cross hatchings of earlier work from the 1980s and also through the layering of gouache, acrylic and collage. The drawings on view here acquaint the viewer with a vision of American that is entirely the artist’s own.
The presence of text in this exhibition offers the seductive promise of legibility. The complexity of Pettibon’s approach to the image of America is obscured further by the words that interact with it. A challenging use of language and textual explanation appears both in the work itself and in their titles. In a series of self-portraits that are reportedly “about self-portraiture rather than being self-portraits,” Pettibon emphasizes the artifice involved in this tradition in exploring the act of posturing and posing. In No Title (Self-portrait with smile), Pettibon is pictured in sunglasses, tugging his face into a smile. The possible meanings of an image are multiplied and complicated by dense paragraphs and floating phrases.
Picturing sweeping landscapes, a melodrama of movement, and the intimacy of a range of encounters, Pettibon’s interrogation of the American landscape zooms in and out, filling the exhibition space with a myriad of lenses. The irony and dark wit long-associated with Pettibon’s work comes through even more clearly in the stark combination of image and text in these new drawings. This exhibition testifies to this artist’s enduringly unique and fascinating angle on the image of America and points to his expansive understanding of the critical and humorous position art can take in the face of social reality.
Exhibition Page [Sadie Coles HQ]
“California Calling: Raymond Pettibon Embraces Sex, Sports and Surfing” [Wallpaper]