Raymond Pettibon - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale - Afternoon Session New York Thursday, November 18, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Raymond Pettibon is widely recognized as one of America’s most inventive representational artists, known for his ink wash drawings combined with text. Pettibon grew up in Hermosa Beach, California, a location implicit to the subject matter of his work’s enduring themes. Growing up at the pinnacle of the counter-culture and late punk-rock movements, his upbringing would become indelible to his work. He was only 12 years old during 1969, which marked a true turning point in pop culture. The changing Hollywood landscape of this time undoubtedly inspired his early work, such as album covers for bands like Black Flag and Sonic Youth. Eventually, he began culling from every corner of American popular and underground culture for his drawings: comics, film noir, baseball, organized religion, figures of rock and roll, Ronald Reagan, Charles Manson, and more. But Pettibon didn’t just passively observe—these subject matters spoke to him because of what they revealed about society. Instead of glorifying these themes, he critiqued them. 


    Leroy Grannis

    This outlook is no more apparent than in Pettibon’s drawings of surfers, a trademark motif in the artist’s oeuvre. When the novelist-critic Denis Cooper asked Pettibon what draws him towards the surfers, Pettibon answered, “Sometimes it is a visual interest, but it can also be the way something like surfing describes a society, and the people in it. I’ve done a lot of large drawings and prints of that imagery. It has that epic nature, that sublime nature that almost asks you to reproduce it full sized on the wall.”1 Untitled (The view from beyond the breakers), 1988-1994, and No Title (When I went), 2001, each depict turbulent waves rendered in soft, fluid brushstrokes varying in thickness and in hue. The works show a lone surfer taking on the ocean, the two differing drastically in how the wave unfurls—breaking into white caps in The view from beyond the breakers and rolling calmly amidst a blue sky dotted with clouds in When I went.


    In the mid to late 1980s, the textual aspect of Pettibon’s compositions grew. The artist is a somewhat inconsistent but razor-sharp linguist in tone and source. These sources include statements, digressions, musings, exclamations, and cut-and-paste appropriations gleaned from a panoply of authors, journalists, mystics, and his own poetry or remembrances. In some cases, the text is acutely relative, while in others, it seems entirely non-sequitur.

    "…all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened…"

    This poetic license is impeccably visible in The view from beyond the breakers. The title, written in the top left corner, is pulled from the 1958 American film version of the crime television series of the same name that ran on CBS radio, The Lineup. In the upper right corner, Pettibon outlines the Merriam-Webster definition of natural: “being in accordance with, or determined by nature.” At the bottom of the work is a line from the Book of Genesis, recounting the day the floodgates were opened and Noah began sailing his ark. These two quotes offer a potent juxtaposition, begging the question of whether humans have the power to defy nature, or if we are powerless against our surroundings. Text and image work together to make a comment on nature’s destructiveness, or specifically in reference to a surfer, the will of the wave. 


    1 Denis Cooper, “Interview: Dennis Cooper in conversation with Raymond Pettibon,” in Raymond Pettibon, New York, 2001, p. 25
    2 Robert Storr, “’You Are What you Read’: Words and Pictures by Raymond Pettibon,” in Raymond Pettibon, New York, 2001, p. 60.

    • Provenance

      Private Collection, Europe
      Phillips de Pury & Company, London, February 16, 2012, lot 27
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Surfing USA: A Selection of Works by Raymond Pettibon


Untitled (The view from beyond the breakers)

signed "Raymond Pettibon" on the reverse
oil on canvas
24 x 30 in. (61 x 76.2 cm)
Painted in 1988–1994.

Full Cataloguing

$300,000 - 400,000 

Sold for $1,022,200

Contact Specialist

Rebekah Bowling
Head of Day Sale, Afternoon Session, New York
1 212 940 1250

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale - Afternoon Session

New York Auction 18 November 2021