The surfer, that bronzed hero freed from humanity’s grind, is nowhere more human than in Raymond Pettibon’s paintings. Based in Southern California since the 1970s, the artist built an oeuvre dedicated to the lore of his locale. Comic-style drawings and paintings of baseball players, punks, and bimbos in monochrome were given narrative through accompanying text, often employing cheek. Through his “surfer paintings,” Pettibon presents the vaunted longboarder as an enlightened figure burdened with a Sisyphean task; a renegade against societal norms turned tireless servant to nature and hubris.
New York gallery Venus Over Manhattan chose to highlight these works through an exhibition titled “Are your motives pure? Raymond Pettibon Surfers 1985-2013,” running until May 17. Black-and-white India ink drawings and massive paintings up to 10 feet wide cover the space, depicting walls of water in sweeping strokes and the dwarfed surfer that seeks to stand up to, understand, and conquer each one.
With his signature text as musing or non sequitur, Pettibon gives such exposed humanity more depth. Among these is the title piece, “(Untitled) Are your motives pure?” which raises a question not only the longboarder therein has been confronted by. It could be a prompt for the creation of art, or upon our every response to life itself.