Raymond Pettibon goes back to the Steam Age

Our Contemporary Artist Series star now lives on the East Coast but there’s a Californian aspect to his new show
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No Title (Never had a...) (2016) by Raymond Pettibon ink and acrylic on paper 129.5 x 140.3 cm / 51 x 55 ¼ in. Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
No Title (Never had a...) (2016) by Raymond Pettibon ink and acrylic on paper 129.5 x 140.3 cm / 51 x 55 ¼ in. Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

Raymond Pettibon might now be living and working in New York, yet the underside of life on the West Coast still features in the 59-year-old’s work. As Robert Storr puts it in our Contemporary Artist Series book on Pettibon, Ray’s view of America seems to be indelibly informed by his southern California slacker milieu. The artist’s “observation post on mainstream American life does have a monastic dimension when you consider that his neighbours are, very likely, at the beach, or cruising the strip,” Storr goes on. “And if not, they are probably awash in surround sound or glued to the tube, or maybe all that, all at once, plus sex and bottles and pills.”

 

No Title (We see him...) 2016 ink on paper 56.5 x 76.2 cm / 22 ¼ x 30 in unique signed and dated verso Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
No Title (We see him...) 2016 ink on paper 56.5 x 76.2 cm / 22 ¼ x 30 in unique signed and dated verso Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

The dark side of the wild west is nicely underscored in the title of his new London exhibition, opening at Sadie Coles on Kingly Street this Saturday, 25 June.

Bakersfield to Barstow to Cucamonga to Hollywooyd [sic] appears to be the twisted cry of a deranged conductor on some defunct branch of the Pacific Electric railway, and the group of new works Pettibon has chosen to show under this title includes a surging steam train, rattling across a near featureless landscape, as well as baseball players, waves and scenes from some imagined film noir.

 

No Title (The greayt power...) (2016) by Raymond Pettibon. Ink on paper. 101.6 x 139.7 cm / 40 x 55 in. Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
No Title (The greayt power...) (2016) by Raymond Pettibon. Ink on paper. 101.6 x 139.7 cm / 40 x 55 in. Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

In another artist’s work, these might be sunny, stock images of the American West. Yet the wispy sentences and menacing palette within the picture upsets any straightforward reading.

“Ranging in scale and subject, Pettibon’s drawings home in on particular objects, incidents or vistas, while ambiguously severing these images from a narrative context,” his gallery explains. “Fragments of handwritten text – placed alongside or threaded within the imagery – add multiple shades of meaning and irony.”

The show opens a few days after a leaked police report reveals investigators found a book with Pettibon’s images in – alongside far seamier material – in Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch.

Further proof that you can take Pettibon out of California, but you can’t get California out of Pettibon. To understand this important artist more thoroughly buy a copy of our brilliant Raymond Pettibon book here; and if you like what you see, take a look at the available works over on Art Space.


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