Pulp fiction

Unravelling Raymond Pettibon’s subversive illustrations
By Alex James Taylor | Art | 25 July 2016

Top image:  Sonic Youth ‘Goo’ (1990), album artwork by Raymond Pettibon

When Raymond Pettibon signed the sleeves for his brother’s band, Californian hardcore legends Black Flag, the LA-based artist carved his name in cultural history.


But think twice before labelling Pettibon as a ‘punk artist’, away from that defining four bar logo, Pettibon’s prolific and provocative body of work spans across multiple themes and mediums. Existing in a world of dark satire, the artist’s most renowned works juxtapose figures from his subversive imagination, from baseball players to surfers through film-noir characters, against vignettes borrowed from literary samples, resulting in witty critiques of contemporary culture.

In an ironic twist of fate, Pettibon’s rejection of the mainstream via his distinctive, underground aesthetic – pulp magazine illustration meets comic-strip panels – has become iconic cultural markers, from his artwork for Sonic Youth’s Goo to his collaboration with Hedi Slimane for the Saint Laurent FW14 invitation booklet.

A new exhibition at London’s Sadie Coles gallery decodes the cut and paste cultural narrative that feeds Pettibon’s distinctive aesthetic. Titled, Bakersfield to Barstow to Cucamonga to Hollywooyd, the body of work on display explores many of the artist’s recurring themes, including ‘encounters’, from sexual liaisons to sports-field standoffs, all presented with an undercurrent of violence, angst or sexual dissatisfaction. “All these closed fields…hard-edged and soft-edged,and flat…What does it measure, what does it ultimately say? It cuts out from the world the complexity that exists, which I deal with in every fucking drawing I make,” explains Pettibon in typically candid fashion.

Raymond Pettibon No Title (The greayt power…) 2016 ink on paper 101.6 x 139.7 cm / 40 x 55 in unique signed and dated verso Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London

Raymond Pettibon: Bakersfield to Barstow to Cucamonga to Hollywooyd runs until 20th August at Sadie Coles, Kingly St, W1B 5QN

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