New York

Raymond Pettibon

Raymond Pettibon is mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore. With “Here’s Your Irony Back (The Big Picture),” the artist may also have been seeking some mainstream political relevance, appearing to dive headfirst into the deep end of the already crowded Bushbashing pool. In his characteristic ferocious dreamscape style, he pounds us with lamentations regarding the Iraq morass. Comprised of groupings of small-scale drawings on paper, the show finds Pettibon painting a lot of blood onto the hands of our current administration, and staging his deadpan outrage as a freak show: The title and the artist’s name are scrawled across the wall in blood-red paint in a gesture of ironic melodrama, or melodramatic irony.

Our discomfiting sociopolitical situation is powerfully evoked in the initial constellation of drawings, organized in relation to the phrase ISRAEL IS MORAL painted directly onto the wall, with a letter T and insertion symbol between and just above the R and A in moral, generating various possible significations. A faint coffin-like structure is rendered, with what appears to be the Israeli flag draped over it. The artist offers no direct explanation of this provocative wordplay, so that while the obvious signification is of Israel as both “moral” and “mortal,” it is unclear whether this is a critique of the US’s foreign policy relationship with Israel, support for it, or some other rumination—a rather compelling ambiguity. The drawing No Title (I have come), 2007, is hung nearby, and states, in part, I HAVE COME TO REALIZE AT LAST THAT IF ONE IS TO SHOW OTHERS ART, ONE MUST BEGIN AT THE OTHER END, WITH MORAL EDUCATION OF THE PEOPLE. Is this Pettibon himself, or has he appropriated another’s voice? Either way, this ethical imperative appears to be driving the artist’s effusive attack on the immorality of contemporary American political life.

On the same wall, No Title (He began to), 2007, pictures a zombie version of President Bush, which appears to crawl inside a coffin decorated with a crumpled American flag, punished with the words HE BEGAN TO RECOUNT ALL THE PEOPLE HE'D MURDERED OR HAD KILLED ... THAT MIGHT TAKE A LIFETIME, BUT HE HAD AN ETERNITY. For Pettibon, a fantasy of justice served is the image of a born-again Christian president presiding over his own funeral. Far beyond mere satire, this is the bitter return of a scorching, vengeful creative unconscious.

Pettibon’s invective is leavened by an eloquent reverie on the ontological state of our world that contextualizes his hysterical, sometimes too obvious, dismantling of Bush and his cronies. No Title (It’s not the), 2007, features the earth as witnessed from outer space, above which is a quote from astronaut Buzz Aldrin: IT'S NOT THE SAME. Pettibon takes on the post-9/11 world on many levels, reinventing imagery drawn from the media into riotously disturbing clots of cartooning that is alternately crude and subtle in its politics. No Title (End the War), 2007, features a rendering of Osama bin Laden with some of his well-publicized demands for the withdrawal of Western interests from the Middle East. Pettibon ironically equates the elusive terrorist with Republicans: IT TURNS OUT THAT HE HAS BEEN, ALL ALONG, A ROBERT TAFT (“MR. REPUBLICAN”) CONSERVATIVE, OF A RATHER ROBUST SORT.

The politics here, then, were alternately rough and sophisticated, lapsing on occasion into demonization or piousness, but Pettibon’s anger felt inescapable throughout. Is it possible to imagine that this dystopic vision might actually trigger some realpolitik aftershocks? Unlikely, as it ultimately delivered most of us right back to where we already were: paralyzed and diminished by a hellish war.

Joshua Decter