The self-proclaimed “unofficial artist of punk rock” Raymond Pettibon blended graphic political satire with innocent idealism in his talk on Monday night.
The discussion, which was sponsored by the Monday night lecture series at the School of Art, dealt with the political, religious and deeply personal inspiration behind Pettibon’s paintings and was attended by an audience of roughly 50 artists and art aficionados. During the talk, Pettibon also analyzed a slideshow of about 30 of his pieces, speaking about his intentions and impressions of each work.
The artwork that Pettibon displayed ranged from portraits of highly controversial figures, such as John Dillinger and Charles Manson, to paintings of more everyday animals and baseball games. All the pieces had introspective and revealing quotes painted onto their canvases, including some with lines in the Bible to passages from novels, but each with Pettibon’s distinctive satirical twist that often mock the relationship between the artist and the audience. For example, in his piece “Beware of Dog,” Pettibon painted a portrait of a dog with a caption along the bottom — “Nevermind the dog beware the artist.”
Some of the paintings’ origins had personal resonance to Pettibon.
“John Dillinger was probably the closest thing I had to a boyhood idol,” Pettibon said. “This piece plays on the relationship with the audience verses the captor because he was as famous for breaking out of jails and prisons as he was for breaking into banks.”
Pettibon emphasized the importance of the relationship between the artist and his subject as well as the one between the artist and his audience in each painting. Pettibon said there is a cat-and-mouse relationship between the pitcher and the batter in his paintings of baseball games, where the pitcher is constantly attempting to “get one over” the batter. Pettibon added that this dynamic is as an analogy for the relationship between the artist and his audience — which also involves a play for control over how closely the audience is able to see into each painting.
“He deals with starkness with a clever precision that I really appreciate,” Chris Prorock, a resident of Newport, Conn. who attended the talk, said. “His piece of the soldier mooning the audience with the caption ‘this is for the liberal media back home’ was so tongue-in-cheek and incisive, yet dealt with it in such a clever manner.”
While going through his slideshow, Pettibon freely pointed out the strengths and weaknesses of each of his own pieces, disparaging his limitations with light and color. On the topic of his limitations, he noted that even people who have been riding big waves for many years would revert to clichés of what a wave looks like instead of representing it as it is.
“I liked the way he was speaking,” Lucas Kolasa, a visiting artist from Rhode Island, said. “He wasn’t trying to sell his work. The art spoke for itself.”
While the paintings were predominantly pieces of political satire, Pettibon also talked about the strong influence of nature on his work, referring to his realistic, black-and-white depiction of a porcupine and a vibrant image of tropical birds.
“Nature’s creations are worth saving, and the best drawings came from making records of the animal kingdom insect and so it’s kind of a tribute to that,” Pettibon said.
Of the five audience members interviewed, all said they appreciated Pettibon’s insights into his work but were particularly enamoured by his paintings of tall waves and surf.
“My favorite ones were of the waves and how he explained the excess of information in the surfer’s head,” Kolasa said. “Whether you are really drawing the force of the wave, or how it happens or what it looks like.”
Other members appreciated Pettibon’s reflective comments on the concepts behind each of the pieces.
“It was really nice to see such a large body of work, go through it slowly and hear what he had to say about everything,” said Georgia Lill ’13. “I love his waves and his surfing pieces, the colors he gets and the scope and magnitude of that experience.”
Pettibon is a native of Tucson, Ariz., and received his bachelor’s degree in economics from UCLA.