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Episode 21
Artist Raymond Pettibon

  • 2 min read

Episode Description

01:11 - Raymond Pettibon discusses his life and work. Pettibon rose to prominence in the 1970s by being the visual force behind South Bay punk scions like Black Flag and the Minutemen. Known for his characteristic paintings which employ mark making more closely akin to drawing and printmaking combined with handwritten prose, he explores themes as diverse as literature, art history, philosophy, religion, politics, sport, and sexuality. His work can be found in every major institution and he is represented in New York by David Zwirner.

28:49 - The week's top art headlines.


Craig: [00:00:09] This is Art Sense, a podcast focused on educating and informing listeners about the past, present and future of art. I'm Craig Gould. On today's episode, I speak with legendary artist Raymond Pettibon. Pettibon rose to prominence in the nineteen seventies by being the visual force behind South Bay punk scions like Black Flag and The Minutemen. Known for his characteristic paintings, which employ mark making more closely akin to drawing and printmaking, combined with handwritten prose, he explores themes as diverse as literature, art history, philosophy, religion, politics, sports and sexuality. His work can be found in every major institution, and he's represented in New York by David Zwirner. At the end of the episode, I'll be taking a look at some of the week's top art headlines. But first up, the prolific pursuit of thought with Raymond Pettibon.

Craig: [00:01:11] Raymond Pettibon, it's it's an honor and privilege to have you on the podcast today. I really appreciate you joining me, Ray. A lot of times when I have artists on the podcast, I kind of start with a hypothetical, which is if you run into a stranger at a dinner party and they've never heard of Raymond Pettibon or what you do or seen what your work looks like. How do you describe to them what you do?

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Raymond: [00:01:37] Well, I don't know. I mean, it's rare that I would run into someone cold like that and make an account for myself. What I do, I mean, I make art that's pretty much encompasses art. Of course, it's it's my own way of making art, et cetera.

Craig: [00:01:54] Your images are pretty recognizable. I think most people that know your work will recognize it in pretty short order. There is some pretty common motifs. Part of it's just the mark making right? Yeah. Well, what do you think attracts you to the strong use of line?

Raymond: [00:02:13] Well, there. I come from the drawing and etching tradition, and that's pretty much how I learned to draw was from chains and comic books. And even though there may be a painterly quality to some of the work it, that's the source for us hatchings line work.

Craig: [00:02:42] And maybe it's an unfair comparison, but sometimes I kind of see like your work and Lichtenstein's work. He does all this work with Ben Day dots. You have all this amazing cross hatching. Were the inspirations from popular media when you first started, comic books and things like that?

Raymond: [00:03:02] Just a visual part of it. My it was how to learn to draw, you know, with what means I had necessary and compared to Lichtenstein my drawing style is more instrumental. It's not. I love Lichtenstein, but the it's a very different type of art than that. I think he I assume he came out of the Abstract Expressionism and pop related more to him with Warhol did with the dots from lithographs or for comic books Sunday comic books anyway. But that's more self-consciously applied.

Craig: [00:03:44] That's just a visual comparison. Right? And so with anybody's art, they're kind of two parts there. You know what we say and how we say it and what you say. It's obvious that you're well-read because you make lots of little references to things that are all over the spectrum. Would you agree with that?

Raymond: [00:04:04] Yeah, it would be hard to jump off a bridge and land into what I do. There is many, many decades of work, mainly from literature.

Craig: [00:04:20] So who who do you read most? What's on your shelf? I mean, do you have a pretty extensive library in your house?

Raymond: [00:04:26] I used to. I just recently gave away about, I don't know, tens of thousands of books, but and I haven't been reading much as I used to. For whatever reason, it can come from anywhere. But there is. There's writers who I have more of an affinity for the my work does anyway.

Craig: [00:04:50] I know that you're probably get tired of talking about the '70s, but you're so strongly tied to that South Bay punk scene. Can you can you explain to me, I mean, I know you're you're creating artwork for for family and friends. In my mind, you were creating artwork for yourself. You were allowing the friends and family to to use it for posters and labels. How did you transition from making this imagery for such an underground movement to eventually finding yourself in some of the top galleries in the world? How did that transition take place?

Raymond: [00:05:31] The art found its own place. I never I've never been part of the. It's never been my favorite thing to shuck in, sell my own work or to galleries and whatever. You know that that came to me, and at first it was, well, if you look strictly in economic terms, the return on investment in my work would be beat the market, beat the Dow Jones, beat almost anything. And that not to. I have to make that reduction is but it does say something, something about it. There is it doesn't say it doesn't say anything about the production and the making of the work because I've never given half of thought to the marketplace or pricing or but it it says a lot about how it's been received. And on that level, it's follow the money, you know, like you couldn't give it away at the time. I mean, the disrespect. I hesitate to associate myself with the punk or the 70s. For one thing, I wasn't born yet for another 20 plus years, and it wasn't. It wasn't a healthy environment for my work. That's not I don't wholesale discredit it. I'm not ashamed or making excuses or anything. It's just how it is. Punk wasn't a visual medium.

Craig: [00:07:15] Do you recall a specific moment when the galleries did find you? I mean, I think it's most artists dream that we're able to just make and make and make, and they find us and things start moving. Was it gradual or was there a specific meeting, specific phone call where things kind of changed?

Raymond: [00:07:37] It was gradual, but there's stops on the way that were more significant than others. I would say, well, this isn't galleries/museum, but Paul Schimmel, and it was a curator at MOCA and the Helter-Skelter show that is very poorly received. I mean, the whole show was at the time, but over time it's become a very influential show for a lot of artists. And even then, as far as marketplace goes, that was...trying to think. I don't know. I don't really take care of those details or not the person to ask about.

Craig: [00:08:26] No, you know, I think it probably says something to to who you are. It sounds like you may spend the majority of your time in the present, you know, thinking about your work and kind of moving forward instead of taking inventory of the past. I understand you're a very prolific artist. Do you have a team that tries to take account of the past that's keeping records and files of all of this massive amount of work that you've turned out?

Raymond: [00:08:55] That's what galleries are for. Yeah. And you know, I'm not. To me, it's not a numbers game. I don't. Part of a prolific isn't isn't part of my esthetic or there's it's not something I aspire to. It's an end in itself. God knows if I if I wanted to, I could got the material to as far as output goes. And that's an issue to do much more than that. I'm not I don't have writer's block or I haven't been doing so much lately for a while because of circumstances. But you know, this is this is also over the years. So I well put it this way, it has crowded out a lot of other things and my life, and I've been kind of questioning whether that was worthwhile or not. You know, at this point, it's kind of sad to think of it that way. Can't get back that life, projected life which lived. But then I wouldn't know what what to do with it. Anyway, really.

Craig: [00:10:12] Is this new lifestyle related to to having a family?

Raymond: [00:10:16] No, no, not at all. Bo doesn't get in the way I've been going through a divorce. The greater part of the last 10 years, so that's really not an issue anyway. And no, that's not that's not part of it. I was hoping that he could be my compadre or collaborator, but I don't see him enough to get that started as much as I would would have liked.

Craig: [00:10:48] Maybe that's an interesting door to open about collaboration, because not not every artist is willing to or excited about collaboration, but my perception is that you sort of enjoy collaboration. Is that true? Do you do you welcome those opportunities to work with with other artists?

Raymond: [00:11:10]  I wouldn't to say I welcome them because there is there can be a downside to it. It's very hard to get right and I'm not a mind reader and you know, to make some some kind of connection with anybody is who knows how it's going to turn out. I've been doing some work with Marcel Dzama. That's that particular. He's he's one artist who I love working with. But when it when it works, it's it's really good. And when it doesn't, it's not so, so well. And there's other avenues of cooperation which are probably better suited than the kind of art I make and. That would be film video and I've done. Fair amount of that over the years, not recently, so much, but

Craig: [00:12:14] I've heard you talk about, you know, having screenplays and ideas for for video, and maybe it's just because I see William Kentridge's work with such strong mark making. But have you ever thought about collaborating with someone to to animate your work in the form of a film?

Raymond: [00:12:34] There has been a couple, actually. And they turned out really well. I'm thinking of, well Kentridge started with kind of like flip books style, right? And there's he's done animation and that goes back. Well, you know, it's almost 20 years now. There were trying to think of the names of the year like 10, 15, 20 minutes long. I thought the animators did a great job on them. There wasn't. I wasn't looking over their shoulders or. Or wasn't that what they had freer rain than that, but it's the actual work of animation. Oh, in the old days, you had to make each frame. Thousands of for like a minute, and that is not something I would look forward to. For what purpose and what cost? But there's other ways to get around that nowadays. But then you have to know you have to have technical skills with computers and all this stuff, which is ahead of my time and I don't have any of that.

Craig: [00:14:03] But if if somebody were to approach you and say, we have a design studio, we have technical expertise, we can collaborate if you bring us the ideas and a storyboard with with your work. Is that something you would be open to collaborating with with someone that had that skill set?

Raymond: [00:14:23] Sure, I'd be open to that. That's more or less what I did in the past. Less than a handful of times, but I don't know if they require even a storyboards. When I make films or videos, I don't I don't bother with that. There is a similarity between storyboards and in comics, for instance, and there's there's some I'd rather let things happen on their own spread out at the time, you know. 

Craig: [00:15:01] Your process, it sounds like your work is sort of a compulsion. Your visuals, like when you sit down, do you sketch? Do you have a journal where you write down ideas or is your art making process your journal? Are these things coming from the top of your head or have you kind of thought about things ahead of time? And like, you know what, I'd like to put this with that and see how it goes.

Raymond: [00:15:25] I have I have a stack of pages which I have notes to and there. There's a there's a words and then there's a visual counterpart and there's an open space between those. They can. There's no ground rules of what becomes a finished work, whether it's whether it starts with the words or visual and on the other hand, for the last couple of years or so, I haven't consulted my notes that also it's been on the spot, improv, the improvised improvised isn't the word, really, but there's like you said before, there's there's certain images that I keep going back to. But then there's. There's images. Come out of left field, I mean, they may be. Found images of some sort or or not. Again, every picture tells a story. All right. Eventually, I can make sense of it. The words can make sense of the drawing, the drawing can make sense of the words,

Craig: [00:16:58] It's funny as as I hear you describe that process and a lot of ways you sound like a songwriter, right? In terms of a songwriter is is working with, you know, there's like the one side that's melody and the other side that's lyrics here. It's a visual and the prose. Do you ever put words together with images that it isn't exactly a direct connection where there's there's a little bit more cognitive dissonance in between for your own sake or for for the sake of the viewer's share to try to figure out how how they go together or are they usually do they usually go hand in hand?

Raymond: [00:17:41] I think there is. There is a cognitive dissonance and at times and probably for the most part, that's not to say it's it's just randomly applied. There is a there is a reason why there it is that way. The only explanation to anyone and that's part of even like New Yorker cartoons, so they can come to a convoluted route, although it's with a minimum of information. My work as well, sometimes for the most part, perhaps. But it. It becomes conclusive or ends somewhat, you know, it can it can be left hanging as well, but there's a punch line. And they're similar in ways, but they're much, much different. I respect the medium in the process. And you're right. It is, the process, anyway's, can be somewhat similar. And as far as that goes to writing songs as well, which I've written many. No one's ever heard of them, because I don't. I've done many records. But the the general public doesn't know.

Craig: [00:19:23] Will the public know one day?

Raymond: [00:19:26] Who knows, I don't have any expectations that sorts. So I pretty much been rewriting the American Songbook. And that falls on deaf ears anyway. You know,

Craig: [00:19:37] I think a lot of people consider you much a writer writing as an art, just as much as, you know, visual imagery, as an art. And I think a lot of people think of you as a writer. Have you compiled your writings before? Have you published your written work?

Raymond: [00:19:55] There's a very scarcity of that that I've even published. And the reason is, and this is kind of self conjecture on my part. But the writing, whether it's songs or animation, film, drawings, paintings there, I'm OK, I'm OK with that. So the writing part is is on display, but the work needs both need the little accompaniment or... over and over over the years, and I've been at this for a long time, I've been OK with the way I work and I haven't built any great need to. I don't, I don't gain anything by losing one or the other, you know? And it's very seldom that the work won't have both. Sometimes they don't. But if it's, if it's plain words and once it's put it on a wall and and framed with a frame or without it still the same, pretty much texture-wise, it was visual arts, I guess.

Craig: [00:21:35] I know that you, you do paintings and drawings. I mean, you're I think a lot of times you work with a brush, but it feels like a drawing because, again, the mark making. But you also do a number of collages these days. Is that just your way of repurposing work that was either an unfinished thought or an unfinished image and your ability to bring it back to life in a new way? Or, you know, are the collages more thought out ahead of time than that?

Raymond: [00:22:08] It can't be. You know, I actually I want to really say it's repurposing, although it can be that it's it's not...God knows I don't have a lack of material, so it's not as if I'm playing catch up or cutting corners by doing collages. It's the associations between images it, well any given drawing I've done there. It does imply. I would think it does. It doesn't just stay there. It may be, you could say it could be the equivalent of a still from a film, but whether you've seen the film in total or not, it's out of time, but nothing is truly out of time. The most minimal of works are done in a context or social order or with a date on the wall, and an author.

Craig: [00:23:29] Do you feel like there is any sort of misconceptions about you or your work? Do you feel that you're misunderstood in any way?

Raymond: [00:23:39] Once it's done, it's it finds its own place and it's pretty much out there for and there's misconceptions, I suppose with no one, I assume I may be wrong, but no one wants to be completely understood because that's impossible to do, at least with my work. There's you'd have to live my life and my study and background to just to have the beginnings of reading it as as I would. And there's no correct way of reading it anyway, you know? And that would include myself. And it's not something I don't prep or coach the reader or the critic or I don't try to. I just don't go there, though, where I stand in the history of art or whatever, whatever those are. That diminishes the work to be summed up that easily or explain that easily to critics or Wikipedia. Sum it up and let it go with that. I hope that's not the case.

Craig: [00:25:06] Do you have any upcoming projects or shows that are on the horizon where where people can can find your work?

Raymond: [00:25:13] I I haven't been working much lately. It kind of brought that up, I think before, but I've had some physical problems with my knees and my drawing hand, which has with so and even before that, I was all right. I want to say I've taken a break because taking a break has been harder than not working. But so it was just circumstances that it's been kind of disheartening to my relationship, to the art world and the people I try to look at and appreciate my work. I have utmost appreciation for them, but it's so it's taken on some unwanted and unsavory manifestations. But it is this disheartening that questioning, you know what the hell I ever started doing this in the first place for that's that's being too dramatic about it, I know, but nevertheless.

Craig: [00:26:39]  I hope that your knees and hand get better because, you know, I know that's that's a real drag. But if folks that that love your work, you know your contribution to the world of art. If if they wanted to keep track of you, where would it be best for people to to follow your comings and goings?

Raymond: [00:26:59] Unfortunately, I'm not. It's been a couple of years since I've been on Twitter and I'm not on Facebook either, and there is an Instagram which I have nothing to do with. So I don't know. I mean, for a current updates and so forth, there's not there's not much, but that doesn't count for much or wouldn't account for much. Even if I did have daily news or I think the body my work is is fairly available like online, the galleries or whatever and books as well. As far as day to day or last week, there's not there's not much. But then, like I said, I'm not. Alien touch lately, I'm I'm on the DL or the injured list like LeBron and whoever right now, this World Series

Craig: [00:28:02] Raymond, I really appreciate your time this morning. I hope you get off the DL soon. I really appreciate you being willing to to open up and answer all my unsolicited questions. I love your work. You know, I love your your vision. And you know, again, I really appreciate your time this morning.

Raymond: [00:28:24] Well, I appreciate yours. And it's it's been really good talking to you about my...

Craig: [00:28:31] I appreciate it. I'll let you go.

Craig: [00:28:44] And now the news,

Craig: [00:28:49] The conversation about ill gotten antiquities and the prospects of restitution continues to bubble up week after week in the British Museum is in the middle of the fray again, which isn't entirely shocking. The institution was created to showcase cultural artifacts from around the world in a time when Britain's foreign policy was more about colonization and less about diplomacy. This week, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called for the return of the Parthenon marbles that have resided at the British Museum for more than two hundred years. He stated this week that he will discuss the issue when he sits down with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday of this week. Mitsotakis was quoted in the Daily Telegraph this week as saying Our position is very clear. The marbles were stolen in the 19th century. They belong in the Acropolis Museum and we need to discuss this issue in earnest. However, Johnson told a Greek newspaper tonight the UK government has a firm long standing position on the sculptures, which is that they were legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the appropriate laws of the time and have been legally owned by the British Museum's trustees since their acquisition in the fifth century. B.c. statues have lived in the British Museum since eighteen sixteen after they were removed from the Parthenon Temple on the Acropolis in Athens by the aforementioned Scottish nobleman Lord Elgin. The then ambassador to the Ottoman court beyond right and wrong, the Greeks understand the exposure that the British Museum provides.

Craig: [00:30:21] The Greek prime minister is even willing to work out an exchange program that would loan the museum higher profile cultural treasures in exchange for the return. But it's unclear whether the British Museum is ready to budge for an institution like the British Museum. It can be a scary proposition. A series of high profile returns could lead to questions about the entire collection, which could eventually threaten the museum as a whole. Hong Kong's M Plus Museum opened this week after heightened anticipation from years of delays. There were various construction delays, including the global pandemic, but the museum is now ready to swing its doors wide open to the cultural elite. The new building is massive, with more than seven hundred thousand square feet of exhibit space. The museum is placing itself in the company of institutions like MoMA, Tate Modern in the Center Pompidou. If you know anything about the geography of Hong Kong, you'll wonder where you could possibly squeeze that size of structure. The answer is Bexhill. The museum is built on land that just a few years ago was part of Victoria Harbor. The art world has chipped in, lighting the opening of the cultural institution. It should provide a bridge between Western and Asian cultures in a city state that traditionally has been thought of as a capitalist epicenter bereft of high art and culture.

Craig: [00:31:42] And even now, as the institution opens, there are questions about the autonomy of the museum. Hong Kong is a city state, has lost its autonomy in recent years, and there are those that fear the museum will not have the freedom to explore all topics or hear all voices because of oversight from Beijing. Anish Kapoor keeps pushing the boundaries of materials. The artist is known for pushing tonnes of waxy red pigment through the doorways of the Royal Academy in two thousand nine, with the extrusion leaving a thick trail of red in its wake. He spent years playing with reflective surfaces, which, when combined with extremely concave or convex shapes, become mind bending. Most recently, he came under scrutiny for buying the exclusive rights to the world's blackest black Phantom Black. That material, which reflects practically no light, is also mind bending if applied to a sculpture. The 3D object loses its dimensionality and looks like a silhouette. A silhouette that changes as you move around it and view it from different angles. The audacity of Kapoor to exclude all other artists from the material lead artist Stuart Semple in 2016 to commission the world's brightest pink with a promise from the manufacturer that everyone can buy it except Anish Kapoor. To buy the paint, you actually have to sign a release confirming that you are not Kapoor. So what's in the works now for Kapoor? He has announced that he has something big in store for the Venice Biennale.

Craig: [00:33:14] He won't give us the details. Only that it involves nanotechnology. Well, nanotechnology involves customizing materials at the molecular level. So what should we expect? It could be a couple of things. Either we will be viewing the world's smallest paintings or sculptures viewable only through an electron microscope seriously, or Kapoor's use nanotechnology to create a material or surface incapable of being created in the natural world. For example. In the natural world, materials, even the most pristine, always have some level of imperfection, but with nanotechnology, materials are knitted together at the molecular level with unbelievable precision. Love him or hate him. I can't wait to see what the Willy Wonka of the art world will be pulling out of his hat. That's all the time we have for this week. You've been listening to art since you can find the show on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher Radio, Spotify or your favorite podcast app. If you've enjoyed this podcast, be sure to subscribe. And while you're there, please rates show and leave a quick review. Your feedback is the key to other folks finding us. If you'd like to see images related to the conversation, read a transcript and find other bonus features. You can go to Canvia Art. And click on the Podcast tab. If you'd like to reach out to me, you can email me at Craig at Canvia. Art, thanks for listening.

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