It’s been two years since Raymond Pettibon’s surfer art went on display on the Upper East Side. Wait, wha? The artist who did the anarchic drawings that graced the cover of Black Flag albums and concert posters? On the Upper East Side? If that seemed weird, this makes more sense: downtown’s own New Museum has announced that, in February, it will put on the city’s first major museum survey of Pettibon’s work, featuring more than 700 drawings across three floors.
Oh, you thought Pettibon was just some joker from Hermosa Beach with a penchant for statements like “Acid is groovy”? New Museum doesn’t see it that way. According to a press release, they see him as a “pivotal figure of American art” whose “link to the punk scene has obscured the scope of his thematic and stylistic vision and the important place he occupies in the history of contemporary art.” His works “poignantly evoke the country’s shifting values across time, from the idealistic postwar period in which he was born to the collapse of the American counterculture in the ’70s and ’80s to the painful military and social conflicts of the present.”
Okay, sure, but most still know Pettibon as the guy who came up with the name Black Flag as well as the band’s signature bars, which ended up being one of the most iconic logos of all-time (just this month, they got the Star Wars mash-up treatment). According to Spray Paint the Walls: The Story of Black Flag, Pettibon (brother of Black Flag frontman Greg Ginn) grew up on ’50s horror comic books, pulp novels, and Mad magazine, and the influences are apparent in the “brilliantly unsettling, wittily macabre” cartoons that helped “define and articulate the tone, the black heart, of the Flag’s music,” per author Stevie Chick.
But while Pettibon’s flyers and album covers helped propel Black Flag to fame/infamy, he eventually disavowed his work with the band, claiming that he was never paid for it and the imagery was repurposed without permission. “Who gives a fuck about cover art?” he told American Hardcore author Steven Blush, going on to say, “Rock’n’roll is such a powerful medium, your work can be in galleries and museums around the world, and still it comes back to a record album.”
Indeed, Pettibon is now an acclaimed, internationally renowned artist (a couple of years ago, Kim Gordon spoke with him at Strand about a book documenting his time as a sort of artist in residence at the David Zwirner gallery in Chelsea). But for those of us who don’t have thousands of dollars to blow on fine art, he’ll always be the guy who drew the cover of Sonic Youth’s Goo. “I stole my sister’s boyfriend. It was all a whirlwind…”
“Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work” on view from February 8 to April 16 at New Museum, 235 Bowery.