Holland Cotter of the New York Times describes Raymond Pettibon’s art as having a “prickly, manic feel.” He also calls it “a steady indictment of American culture… over the past 60 years.” Anyone who visits the “Raymond Pettbon: A Pen of All Work” exhibit at the New Museum in Manhattan may very well agree with him.
The collection is as much a through-a-lens view on American history as it is an artist’s retrospective. In pen, ink, and paint, hundreds of portraits and comics spread across three floors of the New Museum, most illuminated by the artist’s pointed titles, comments, and captions. There is a collection of historical monsters: Hitler, Stalin, Lenin. There are also sketched summaries of the Vietnam War, of Korea, of Iraq.
Going farther back along the path of retrospective, viewers can see the birth of themes that Pettibon would track for his whole career. In grade school, back when Raymond Pettibon was Raymond Ginn, he drew surfers and soldiers, landscapes and Olympic athletes.
Recently, while in his 50s, he annotated those early sketchings. One, particularly poignant, was done in crayon: a picture of Nazi fighter planes. Now it sports a Proust quote that elevates the idea of a child drawing war machines and dreaming of his own battles:
“They are innocent enough as long as they are regarded as mere toys.”
It is a phrase that could be applied to much more of his artwork. Much of it can be interpreted as silly and aimless, unless one steps closer to read his spidery penciled comments.
Today, Pettibon continues to make pithy comments and observations about the world on his Twitter feed, though he produces art as he always has. This likely won’t be his final retrospective.
“Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work” will run at the New Museum through April 9, 2017. Information can be found at newmuseum.org or by calling (212) 219-1222.