Reading Raymond Pettibon

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There aren't many artists, even those who use language, who think like writers. Seeing Raymond Pettibon's show at Regen Projects, on view through May 30, made me think that he does. Even the show's title: From my bumbling attempt to write a disastrous musical, these illustrations muyst suffice.

Raymond Pettibon, "No Title" (In his writing), 2015
Ink, gouache, acrylic, pen and graphite on paper; 21 7/8 by 29 1/8 inches
Courtesy of Regen Projects

His small to medium sized drawings done with a loose line in watercolor, ink and pencil haven't changed stylistically over the years. Neither have his themes. Baseball players, surfers, film noir characters, dicks and dames, trains and books, Joan Crawford and Gumby recur as they have since the early 1980s. That is when he was discovered by Mike Kelley and others who admired his cover art for Black Flag and other SoCal punk bands.

Raymond Pettibon, "No Title" (My Sole Intention), 2015
Ink and graphite on paper; 24 3/4 x 19 1/4 inches
Courtesy of Regen Projects

Pettibon's themes and characters populate contained narratives so that each cluster of drawings and sometimes a single work operates like a short story and the entire show as a volume of collected works. Even a novel. This is not to say that these narratives can be followed clearly by even the most devoted Pettibon followers, and they are legion. The sentences and word play, the questions and answers, are glimpses into actions that are never explicated, therefore ever more tantalyzing. His greatest influence is the 18th century Tristam Shandy, in which Lawrence Sterne borrowed entire passages by other authors to incorporate into his digressive novel. In this show, there are numerous specific references to writing: "My sole intention is to make the reader feel the hurt!" in red ink above a black and white rendering of a man spanking a bare-bottomed boy. An erect green Gumby startling a young girl is captioned, "I can't stay in the sentence." A simple flesh colored hand upon a black Bible has no text.

Raymond Pettibon, "No title" (Some try to), 2015
Collage, gouache, pen and ink on paper; 32 1/2 x 30 inches
Courtesy of Regen Projects

Pettibon likes a casual presentation. Some of his pictures were painted and pinned to one wall before the opening, just like the old days. Others are marred by scuff marks, blotches, crinkles. Pettibon is unbothered by these, they are part of his unrestrained efforts. Here, too, is the writer at work, composing with a cut and paste process familiar to all pre-internet authors. Since the words are out of context, focus is intensified as the reader gropes for clues or enjoys the implicit ironies. The process is reinforced by actual collages, fragments of drawings and sentences that are pasted together in large, complex compositions. In a Pettibon show, each piece offers its own time-consuming reward.