Cover image (detail) from What Makes a Man Start Fires, an album by the Minutemen, drawing by Ray Pettibon (1982)
It’s weird when obscure favorites become “rock stars.” Another favorite word/image artist of mine during the eighties was Raymond Pettibon. To see the latest Pettibon, you went to the record store to pick up an SST title from the Minutemen or Black Flag. Now, it seems that Ruscha and Pettibon are showing the fruits of a collaboration where Ruscha does the drawing and Pettibon writes the caption. Imagine my surprise when I found this in the April 2006 Modern Painters:
Between them, Ruscha and Pettibon have an effective monopoly on text-based
visual art; at least as it is practiced in California, where they are both fanatically
beloved fine-art rock stars. Both are masters of recontextualization as a means to
expose and expand the meaning of that which might otherwise be in danger of
being taken for granted, or overlooked altogether in our language, and therefore, by
implication, our culture. Ruscha’s iconic style is cool, reserved and regal – known
for an economy of verbiage and a clean sensibility but also for a sly and random wit.
Pettibon’s, by contrast, is more rag-tag, anguished and post-punk with its scratchy
scrawl, tendency to rant and invocation of historical and literary gravitas. His role
as caption-writer in this collaboration suits his temperament, as one often feels
that the fiercely agitated drawings of surfers, baseball players and book pages
featured in his work serve as a pretext for their own captions in any case.