I first fell in love with Raymond Pettibon’s text/image drawings in the late ‘70s, when he made cover art for Black Flag records. They were witty, irreverent, subversive, pornographic, and highly intellectual, though I didn’t really understand this at the time. To my early teenage mind, they just looked cool.
A couple of decades later, I wrote a piece about him for Huck magazine. Wading through his studio, swimming in his work, watching him whack a baseball, I came to the realization that Pettibon has turned art making into his nervous tic, the thing he defaults to without ceremony or procrastination.
That may or may not be accurate.
What’s for certain, though, is “A Pen of All Work,” his retrospective at the New Museum, which opened in early February and is up until April 9. If you’re anywhere near NYC in the next couple of months, by all means check it out. You don’t have to be interested in visual art to feel its galvanizing power. Like a Mozart symphony or a Shakespeare sonnet or a Dane Reynolds hack, it’s palpable to the uninitiated. It gets under your skin, reminds you to dig deep and access the voices within.
Here’s a passage from the piece I wrote:
I ask him what comes first: the text or the image. “Where the image stops and the words begin is not that clear cut,” he says. “It’s more a give and take, a back and forth, dialectic almost in between the two and/or both. Probably more times than not when I have problems it’s because I tend to overwrite, so it’s more learning when to stop.”
And here’s a link to the piece itself: