It seems as though New York is having a Raymond Pettibon moment. But then again, as proved by a magnificent survey of the 59-year-old artist's work at Sotheby's S|2 gallery, the last four decades have been peppered with Pettibon moments. He designed Black Flag's iconic (and ever imitated) band logo, a plethora of album and LP artwork for the likes of Sonic Youth and Foo Fighters, and is represented by David Zwirner. Today, Pettibon has an ongoing and much raved about solo exhibition at the New Museum chronicling 30 years of the artist's alchemical drawings of American countercultural life. The concurrent S|2 show, titled Raymond Pettibon: Four Decades, is a smaller, but equally poignant, survey of his work.
S|2's more intimate setting seems appropriate for Pettibon's small to medium-sized drawings of American mythos, hung linearly on a singular wall. His somewhat informal style of drawing, somewhere in between sketch and cartoon, invites a cursory looks at his work, but his clever use of the written word begs a closer, slower examination of his drawings.
While this push and pull is one of the draws of Pettibon's work, the main attraction is certainly the cultural zeitgeist he captures in his drawings. In No Title (I Was Beginning) (2001), the artist uses the Statue of Liberty as a metaphor for a girl reaching puberty and adulthood, fusing these signifiers with a direct reference to Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes' iconic Bossa Nova ballad The Girl from Ipanema.
On the other side of the cultural spectrum, Pettibon created No Title (Make And Shoot!) (2001) in the same year, a work that seems to reflect on gun culture and mass shootings in the United States. Made in the aftermath of the Columbine massacre, the work lets out an almost religious cry: "BE PREPARED! They would say, for when you LOSE CONTROL."
Although his poignancy becomes evident as you spend time with these works, there remains the question of why Pettibon is being celebrated and showcased so heavily at this particular moment. Is the timing incidental or intentional? Pascal Nadon, the curator of Four Decades seems to believe it's a bit of both.
"I think Pettibon's role as a visual historian of counterculture, often documenting it in its rawest form, resonates with the times," Nadon tells The Creators Project. "His work has addressed different facets of contemporary life through a number of pivotal moments of US history, identifying with his pairing of text and images the shifting values of the country across the last few decades. From military and social conflicts to times of peace, Pettibon has been a scribe to the changing cultural framework of the country."