Raymond Pettibon: Are Your Motives Pure?

Words and art combine to make up this bold, surf-centric exhibition

by Charlotte Anderson


With characters and landscapes composed in stark ink, self-trained artist Raymond Pettibon‘s style is a melding of images and text––reminiscent of William Blake’s illustrated poems––wryly focusing in on motifs of American life, literature, comics, art, religion and pop culture. Tucson-born, now NYC-based, Pettibon is known not only as an artist, but also as the former bass player for Black Flag. His work is easily traced back to the album and poster art he made for the band, as well as the group’s beloved, oftentimes borrowed and highly recognizable four-bar logo design.

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Pettibon’s show “Are Your Motives Pure?” opened Thursday night at Venus Over Manhattan to a healthy crowd of music fans, writers and art fans. Champagne mixed with a dose of Curaçao for a bubble libation the color of Windex served as the perfect accompaniment to Pettibon’s retrospective, which focused on the single motif of surfing. This strain in his otherwise diverse body of work, known simply as “The Pettibon Surfers,” spans from 1985 to 2013. The works depict tiny surfers riding and engulfed by massive waves.


There is no sense of resolution in his art; Pettibon is not really an illustrator. His India Ink scrawls always exist in a state of suspension. Drawn in seemingly haphazard style on paper, they are not paintings, illustrations, cartoons or poetry in the strictest of senses—instead they exist within the permanent fissure between artistic genres. Pettibon himself says he spends more time writing than drawing.


So surfing stands as an ideal metaphor for Pettibon’s genre-crossing work. After all, what is it to stand atop a shifting ocean—an entity so enormous, powerful and unforgiving. It’s the ultimate in uncertain ground and Pettibon addresses the ephemeral nature of the beast in his 2010 piece “No Title (Some things sea).” In the artist’s typically poetic and succinct voice, “SOME THINGS (SEA FOAM FOR INSTANCE) CANNOT BE DRAWN AT ALL, BUT ONLY SURFED.”

“Are Your Motives Pure?” is on view at Venus Over Manhattan through May 17, 2014.

Images courtesy of Venus Over Manhattan