The Artist Project: Raymond Pettibon on JMW Turner

Why the contemporary artist appreciates the 18th century painter for his ability to go beyond mere representation
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Raymond Pettibon beside of work of Turner's at the Metropolitan Museum, New York. As reproduced in The Artist Project
Raymond Pettibon beside of work of Turner's at the Metropolitan Museum, New York. As reproduced in The Artist Project

Having first made his name creating sleeve artwork for the Southern Californian punk scene, it's not hard to see why Raymond Pettibon felt attracted towards the paintings of Joseph Mallord William Turner. Although in our new book The Artist Project: What Artists See When They Look At Art, he picks out one of his less abstract works, Venice From The Porch Of Madonna Della Salute (1835), what he admires in Turner is the way that he exceeds mere technique and in so doing anticipates the modern art era. As Pettibon himself puts it in The Artist Project  “Any Joe Schmo with apprenticeship and focus can learn to paint, but they could never paint like Turner.”

 

Venice from the Porch or Madonna Della Salute (c. 1835) by Joseph Mallord Turner, as reproduced in the Artist Project
Venice from the Porch or Madonna Della Salute (c. 1835) by Joseph Mallord Turner, as reproduced in the Artist Project

Pettibon says he has a problem with representation, lacking the requisite visual memory. Turner himself must have faced the same problem painting a sky, when that sky is liable to shift in appearance within minutes. He appreciates that Turner goes beyond representation, painting instead something more experiential – it's said he once lashed himself to a ship's mast to experience the turbulence of the sea.

 

No title (They were a) (1998) by Raymond Pettibon. As reproduced in the Artist Project
No title (They were a) (1998) by Raymond Pettibon. As reproduced in the Artist Project

Turbulence, trial, error, discovery – all of this is grist to Pettibon for whom each painting is a learning experience, a process of making mistakes then making them better, rather than merely as he says “cranking them out”. 

 

The Artist Project

To find out more about the classic works that inspire contemporary artists, order a copy of The Artist Project here.


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