A Pettibon Primer

Hell (and Back): Where Pettibon takes you. Though his work has grown more thoughtful of late, Pettibon's view of the world is often apocalyptic, angry, or grim. He looks at sin, shame, and degradation with an arch eye. Skepticism is his middle name.

Installation: Collector-driven. I've never seen a show chosen and installed according to who owns the work. There are no dates given, no chronology, so there's no sense of development. It turns Pettibon into a private club. However, it is a unique way to organize an artist who has produced more than 7000 drawings, and it avoids eye-numbing sprawl. Plus, on the cool side, you get a fly's-eye view into certain collectors and museums. You can see who likes what, and who has the best eye. Here, individuals beat museums by far.

Juggernaut of Voices: Pettibon's language comes in waves, in multiple styles and syntaxes; in curses, quips, fragments, and asides. In a single work, Pettibon might speak with the voice of God, of the artist, of someone telling a story, andsomeone commenting on that story. He uses every tense and idiom. He speaks in genres.

Skepticism is his middle name: Pettibon drawings from the collection of Tom Patchett.
Robin Holland
Skepticism is his middle name: Pettibon drawings from the collection of Tom Patchett.

Every genre is a worldview, a way of thinking, be it detective story, romance novel, mathematical treatise, poem, play, or baseball card. Some of these tongues sound anachronistic, some contemporary; some are passing trends, or schools of speech, but they all carry memory and wisdom. Pettibon sees them all as unfinished and open; he combines these blocks of speech to create a kind of rogue genre, or a harmony of genres— a new blood type of language. He supplies the body, which is drawing, then he gets in your head.

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