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No Title (This left was...)

No Title (This left was...)
acrylic, gouache, ink, colored pencil and printed paper collage on paper
54 7/8 x 84 1/8 in. (139.4 x 213.7 cm.)
Executed in 2012.
Regen Projects, Los Angeles
Venus Over Manhattan, New York
Nahmad Contemporary, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
E. Gordon, ed., Point Break: Raymond Pettibon, Surfers and Waves, New York, 2022, n.p. (illustrated).
Los Angeles, Regen Projects, Inaugural Exhibition by Gallery Artists, September-October 2012.
New York, Venus Over Manhattan, Raymond Pettibon: Are your motives pure?, April-May 2014, pp. 6-7 (illustrated).

Brought to you by

Isabella Lauria
Isabella Lauria Vice President, Senior Specialist, Head of 21st Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

An exemplary work of Raymond Pettibon’s “surfer paintings,” the monumental No Title (This Left Was…) expands his motif of a single surfer taking on a massive wave to novelistic ends. The red words at the top of the composition read, “This left was steep and fan shaped, spreading at the bottom. Sloping it grew steeper, and the rocks grew smaller: the flow of a belted glacier prolonged in space.” This lyrical description of the work’s scene transforms the ubiquity of surfing, especially in Southern California, where Pettibon grew up, into something epic. Pettibon thereby creates a myth from the mundane, in the tradition of the best artists throughout history, from Gustave Courbet to Andy Warhol.

No Title (This Left Was…) commands the viewing space at about four-and-a-half feet by seven feet, mirroring the water’s vastness. Pettibon composes the scene with detailed, muscular fronds of blue, green, and yellow that evoke Vincent van Gogh’s landscapes. As is characteristic of the artist’s “surfer paintings,” a lone figure is dwarfed by a massive wave. The slim, blond surfer approaches the wall of water without fear, allowing for a metaphor about facing the unknown with resolution.

Pettibon uses multiple media in the present work. Appearing at first to be a unified, immersive image, No Title (This Left Was…) is in fact collage upon close inspection. Toward the upper middle section of the composition, Pettibon has included a piece of paper with printed text. With this fascinating combination of imagery and techniques, No Title (This Left Was…) is perhaps a descendent of Pablo Picasso’s Composition with Violin (1912) and Bather with Beach Ball (1932).

“Some, such as in the massive No Title (This Left Was…), are darkly suggestive and tend toward abstraction—the goliath, blue waves swallow up the surfers dancing inside them.” - Elien Blue Becque

Equally interesting is Pettibon’s simultaneous investment in abstraction and figuration, not unlike Alice Neel and Lee Krasner. He emulates the emotionality and lyricism of Abstract Expressionism, while drawing upon the winking figuration of Neo-Expressionism and the deadpan representation of Pop Art. Describing the works in Pettibon’s 2014 solo show at Venus Over Manhattan, Vanity Fair observes, “Some, such as in the massive No Title (This Left Was…), are darkly suggestive and tend toward abstraction—the goliath, blue waves swallow up the surfers dancing inside them” (E.B. Becque, “The Culture List: Surf Paintings, Gauguin on Vacation, and Victorian Sex Appeal,” Vanity Fair, April 4, 2014, https://www.vanityfair.com/culture/art/2014/04/culture-list-raymond-pettibon-gauguin-agnes-varda). No Title (This Left Was…) is as much about painting as it is about a pastime. The wave becomes a Hokusai-esque brushstroke that oscillates among the hallmark juxtapositions of Pettibon’s work: representation and abstraction, art and poetry, seriousness and levity.

Also important is Pettibon’s use of text in No Title (This Left Was…), which complements his expressionistic marks. In the tradition of the Pre-Raphaelites, who used painting as an extension of myths, poems, and religious narratives, Pettibon combines painting with his own poetry. Renowned art historian Benjamin H.D. Buchloh counts among Pettibon’s inspirations iconic writers like “William Blake and John Ruskin to Henry James and James Joyce” (B.H.D. Buchloh, “Raymond Pettibon: Return to Disorder and Disfiguration,” October, No. 92, Spring 2000, p. 39). In addition to the Pre-Raphaelites, connections could also be drawn between No Title (This Left Was…) and the canonical works of text-based Conceptualism, like John Baldessari’s What Is Painting (1966-1968) and Ed Ruscha’s Water (1970). In the tradition of Southern California art of the 1960s, Pettibon uses text, humor, and a noirish sensibility in order to explore the depths of mass culture. Yet his imagery is unmistakably his own, and it has helped to revitalize figuration in contemporary art.

“Viewers needn’t drown in a morass of moving water and foam. Big, forbidding surf both attracts and repels.” – Raymond Pettibon, in “Punk’s new wave: Raymond Pettibon’s surf paintings – in pictures,” The Guardian,” 11 Jun 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2022/jun/11/punks-new-wave-raymond-pettibon-sst-surf-paintings-in-pictures).

Pettibon’s ouevre has been consistently praised throughout his nearly 40-year career, both inside and outside the art world. In 2016, he received retrospectives at the Deichtorhallen, Hamburg, Germany, and the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, Austria. His most recent retrospective originated at the New Museum, New York (2017) and travelled to the Bonnefantenmuseum Maastricht, the Netherlands, and the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow. In 2019, he was the subject of a two person show with the canonical 19th century artist Honoré-Victorin Daumier at the Kunst Museum Winterthur, Switzerland. Recently, Pettibon collaborated with American singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey to reimagine the cover for her Grammy nominated album Norman Fucking Rockwell! (2019). A book dedicated to his “surfer paintings” entitled Point Break: Raymond Pettibon, Surfers and Waves was published by David Zwirner Books last year. This collaborative, interdisciplinary impulse has inspired a generation of artists.

Buchloh’s thoughts on Pettibon’s drawings also lend themselves to the present work, “[They] seem to have suddenly awoken from drawing’s near extinction to resuscitate its most hallowed traditions (the chiaroscuro, the expressive graphic gesture, and the dramatic figure) to reach uncanny appearances of virtuosity” (B.H.D. Buchloh, “Raymond Pettibon: Return to Disorder and Disfiguration,” October, No. 92, Spring 2000, p. 39). No Title (This Left Was…) evinces this virtuosity and deep commitment to the history of drawing and painting. It is a work of immense depth, like the ocean itself. And, like the ocean, it contains secrets that cannot be easily discovered or read, despite the composition’s surface legibility.

It pulsates with numerous meanings that can shift with each viewer’s context and experiences. In this way, Pettibon seeks a connection in No Title (This Left Was…). He sums it all up, “In the end, sometimes it’s not what you are saying but how you say it that really matters. The language is on fire and you just spit it out” (M. Gioni, “’The Language Is On Fire and You Just Spit It Out’: Massimiliano Gioni Interviews Raymond Pettibon,” Artspace, March 17, 2017, https://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/book_report/the-language-is-on-fire-and-you-just-spit-it-out-massimiliano-gioni-raymond-pettibon-54650).

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