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Inside Raymond Pettibon & Marcel Dzama's Drawing Collaboration

'Forgetting the Hand,' a new show at David Zwirner brings the contemporary artists together for a series of "exquisite corpse"-style drawings.

by Alina Cohen
Jan 25 2016, 6:40pm

Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon, We will ride into the sunset, 2015. Pencil, ink, gouache, and collage on paper. 21 x 16 1/8 inches (53.3 x 41 cm). Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

One might think, after viewing the new Raymond Pettibon / Marcel Dzama show at David Zwirner, that the two men have known each other forever. Forgetting the Hand (open through February 20) features a series of drawings on which the men collaborated. In accordance with the title, the viewer easily forgets that two different hands made these marks. Despite the unique aesthetics of both men, they’ve mirrored each other’s styles and worked together so seamlessly that it would be easy to think that just one artist created the entire group.

At one time, though, Dzama was just a young Pettibon fan, admiring the artist from afar and waiting for his own big break.

Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon, Fighting crime is just a way to meet guys, 2015. Pencil, ink, watercolor, gouache, and collage on paper. 14 x 17 inches (35.6 x 43.2 cm). Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

“He was the first contemporary artist that I probably knew of because of the bands I liked as a teenager, like Sonic Youth,” says Dzama. “The first CD I ever bought was Goo [for which Pettibon designed the cover].”

Dzama also tells a story about how he may partially owe his own Zwirner representation to Pettibon. “I don’t know if this is true or not,” he says, “but when I had my first show in LA at Richard Heller Gallery, David Zwirner was buying Raymond Pettibon drawings from him and saw my work. He wouldn’t have been there otherwise. Raymond really opened the door for drawing in contemporary art. I don’t know if there would have been room for me before that.”

Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon, Disco death of Rasputin, 2015. Pencil, ink, gouache, and collage on paper. 21 x 16 1/4 inches (53.3 x 41.3 cm). Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

The artists’ first collaboration was something of a game. “David Zwirner opened a gallery in London and invited his artists. A lot of us started drawing on napkins. Ray kind of started the whole thing. That was our first collaboration together. I kept some of the sketches,” says Dzama. The pair continued to hang out at each other’s studios, trading work, and exchanging paintings for each other’s sons, who are the same age.

Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon. Installation view from the 2016 solo exhibition Forgetting the Hand at David Zwirner, New York. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

The new show brought the pair even closer together. Shortly before Forgetting the Hand opened, Dzama and Pettibon were sitting in one of the Zwirner galleries after hours, finishing drawings for the show alongside friends, family, and assistants. Half-eaten take-out salads sat atop plastic tables coated with art and supplies as David Bowie music blared. The singer had just died earlier that week. One of the unfinished drawings featured Bowie’s face, an homage to the singer and an insight into his cross-genre influence. In the finished drawing, the phrase “thank you” also appears, perhaps a statement of gratitude to his groundbreaking work.

In the finished show, the artists’ playfulness and love for their medium are still apparent. Collage creates a sense of depth and texture in the colorful, arresting drawings. They’re unframed and tacked to the walls, creating a sense of the informality of the artists’ methods, allowing viewers a closer look at the marks and materials. A few common themes weave throughout the series. Superheroes, villains, and masks abound, lending the drawings a sense of high drama. Batman and Robin also appear; Pettibon has been working on a script for thirty years, and he and Dzama are now talking about making their own movie.

Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon, Attention 28, 2015. Pencil, ink, watercolor, gouache, and collage on paper 20 1/2 x 18 7/8 inches (52.1 x 47.9 cm). Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

Beyond their vivid imaginations, news and contemporary events also inspire the pair. Dzama discusses a New York Times story he read about a woman in Afghanistan who allegedly burned a Quran. Men beat her and burned her body as punishment. Dzama says he was pissed off and through drawing, wanted to mess with the violent ideology.

Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon, No you won’t fool the women of the revolution, 2016. Pencil, ink, watercolor, gouache, and collage on paper. 30 x 22 1/8 inches (76.2 x 56.2 cm). Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon, Sunbather, 2016. Pencil, ink, watercolor, gouache, and collage on paper. 15 x 11 inches (38.1 x 27.9 cm). Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

Dzama is a busy man, and Forgetting the Hand is just one of his current collaborative projects. He designed the costumes and set for the The Most Incredible Thing, a New York City Ballet production choreographed by Justin Peck that opens on February 2 (dancers are on Dzama’s mind; they twirl throughout the works in Forgetting the Hand). He’s working on a movie, A Flower of Evil, with Amy Sedaris. Viewers can watch a preview at the Zwirner show. Finally, he just finished a zine with Pettibon that features some of the Forgetting the Hand drawings.

“I prefer collaborations to solo work,” says Dzama. “There’s more energy. You’re bouncing ideas back and forth, working on things you wouldn’t have thought up on your own. You do more experimenting. Sometimes when you’re drawing by yourself, it can get lonely.”

Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon, The ghosts in these walls, 2015. Pencil, ink, gouache, and collage on paper. 14 x 11 1/8 inches (35.6 x 28.3 cm). Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon: Forgetting the Hand is on view at David Zwirner through February 20, 2016. Click here to learn more about the ongoing exhibition. 

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