thrashing the hard core embarrassment

the depiction of a total cultural wallop and then disavowal…

by Art Chantry (

not many punks made it into the big time art world. you can start naming the names – mike kelly (originally of destroy all monsters), gary panter (perhaps). however, raymond pettibon (originally ‘pettibone’, but he dropped the ‘e’) has really hit the upper echelons of american art. he’s been exhibited in the whitney and the los angeles museum of art. he’s been embraced by the fine art world as a modern primitive. what he lacks in fine art pretensions, he makes up for in unavoidable existential angst. you can’t look at his work without a shudder and question or two, then a realization that you w=know what he’s saying… “huh? wha’? why? …oh!”

most of out here on the west coast of these united states, however, remember him as the brother of greg ginn – that guy in black flag, the seminal los angeles punk band – the band that did more to drag american youth into punk culture than maybe any other band outside of the ramones. we must have seen pettibon’s drawings on a thousands of Black Flag street posters.

AC:i have no other explanation for the way he's just turned his back on his early punk work. he won't talk about it and ignores it ever happened. the 'art world' has no idea that he did all that stuff. man, he should have a book of just those poster published. it would be fooking amazing to see.

raymond pettibon’s work was already self-published in some small chap book style ‘zines. when his brother’s band (he was the guitarist in black flag and also ran a small record label that released their records, then eventually others) started to gig around LA, pettibon simply let them use his work for free – almost at random and accidently. true to the form, they took the free stuff and ran with it. soon, his worked graced almost every black flag record cover and flyer for nearly a decade. he became synonymous with the band and their occasionally violent and combative and defiant pubic image. his images of angst and death and morbidly self-obsessed losers set the tone for the identity of LA punk better than any other statement of his generation. but, he didn’t like it much.

in fact, nowadays, raymond pettibon has distanced himself from his huge underground cultural historical success. he’s always thought of himself as an ‘artist’ and NOT a ‘punk’. in fact, the linkage between his work and the twisted world of thrash and hardcore punk seems to be an embarrassment to him.

when asked about those days, he dismisses it with a few cutting remarks about being taken advantage of and never really being very interested in it. basically he rather disowned his enormous contributions to the seminal LA punk culture. it’s a shame, really.

maybe it had something to do with never getting paid a dime? maybe it’s about bad blood between brothers? maybe it was that he didn’t want to become ranked as a ‘punk artist’? dunno. we’ll likely never know. but, he exhibits in the biggest museums and galleries in the world and gets enormous dollars for his work. who buys most of it? my money is on old punks who made it rich. ironic, eh?

one nice thing is that (if you’re interested) you can still buy pettibon’s old punk flyers out there for peanuts. i mean, for just a few dollars! it’s rare to see one of his old flyers selling on ebay for more than $20! man, if i had the time and money, i’d be out there snapping up as many original old flyers and print/pieces as fast as i could. it’s by far the best and most profoundly impacting punk art maybe ever. absolutely great work, whether intentionally produced for the punk medium or not.

most of these old flyers (like the dead kennedys/circle jerks poster i posted above) are slapped together

g one of his drawings with some press type crudely applied by someone else (his brother, perhaps). the combination of angst and amateurish typography is breathtakingly disturbing. it’s like an insight into the deeper psychosis of the american dream. a graphic design prophecy of dark horror and triumphant failure. so nasty, so true, so perfect.

and it was all disowned by the guy who did it. go figger.


Art Chantry: …well, toulouse-lautrec actually thought of his poster work as trash. he only did it as a favor and for money. it was throw away for him. he was a painter and strived to be recognized as one exclusively. the idea that his posters have survived more popular by far than his paintings must have him spinning in his grave.

for generations, more museums collected his ‘cheezy’ posters than his ‘artwork.’ more people know him today for his ‘commercial art’ work than for his ‘fine art’ work.

and museums who collect his posters always mount them o n canvas before they display them. go figger, eh?

not so with pettibon….

… i just feel like pettibon’s best work was the poster stuff. maybe because i’m prej or something, maybe because i’m a graphic designer and not a fine artist. but, his punk flyers have 1000 times more power than his artwork standing alone in my estimation. it’s anthropological….

…i think that anybody seeing these things for the first time will have pretty much the same reaction we had seeing back in them olden daze of yore. i think that’s why he’s been accepted into the ‘fine art’ circles at this point. you can’t deny his stuff.

but, when he was ‘talking’ directly to the street, his ‘voice’ was so much MORE profound than it is talking to a bunch of fine art mavens and taste twits.

rule number 6: know yer fuckin’ audience, dude!…

…charles burn’s “mutantis” gag panel strip was exclusive to the rocket . i think it was the very best work he ever did. since they were gag panels and not sequential stories, they worked really well. frankly, i’ve never really thought charles’ work was very literary. his writing skills were not up to snuff. but, his actual drawing skills were phenomenal. the result of a gag panel was that he didn’t need to rely upon a story line but instead went for the surreal humor he’s so good at.

pettibon gag panels, on the other hand, were a sort of depiction of a zeitgeist, a total cultural wallop. besides, his work was (at best) deeply ironic and nihilistic – therefore not funny but unnerving. his work in the rocket was also reprinted from his old chap book stuff, therefore not original at all, but reprint of work created years earlier as stand-alone artwork.

so, i never really thought either of them held up well against lynda barry or matt groening’s strip work. those two proved the old adage: to be a great cartoonist, you first need to be a great writer. neither lynda or matt even needed to ‘draw beautifully’ (thought hey actually could if they chose) to be a great strip comic artist. it was a strange lesson to watch evolve….

Related Posts

This entry was posted in Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion, Modern Arts/Craft and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>