lthough Raymond Pettibon’s entire body of artwork has gained increased recognition in the past ten years (thanks largely to late-nineties gallery exhibitions in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles), to many—especially music aficionados—he is still best known for his role in helping to shape the image of the 1980s SoCal punk scene, particularly with his concert fliers and record covers for hardcore legends Black Flag.
A younger brother of Black Flag founder and guitarist Greg Ginn (“Pettibon” was a nickname given by their father), Pettibon’s connection to both the band and the scene as a whole was a natural and vital one. For it was Pettibon who not only christened the band, but also designed their four-barred logo, the punk rock equivalent of the Nike Swoosh.
Pettibon’s sketches for the band, as with most of his work overall, were often darkly provocative and difficult to fully grasp. His cover for 1984’s Slip It In is perhaps his most famous Black Flag cover, whose image of a seedy looking nun interlocked with a pair of nude legs, combined with the album’s title and the cover’s accompanying text, portrays a scene of social corruption without referencing any one specific contemporary issue—a common method of Pettibon’s.
More confounding is an untitled sketch from 1986 of a mohawked punk’s silhouette with extensive text that begins as a scenester’s ode to cigarettes and fallen Germs frontman Darby Crash, but ends as a lewd account of homosexual punk rock groupie love.
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Pettibon’s high rate of productivity and easily identifiable style caused his artwork to become synonymous with Black Flag and the underground musical movement they took part in. It was a logical pairing, as Pettibon’s highly un-academic sketches perfectly mirrored Black Flag’s DIY approach.
The ubiquity of Pettibon’s images can be credited largely to the relentless grassroots publicity work done by Black Flag band members and friends, who spray-painted the logo and stapled fliers all over Los Angeles. Such tactics stemmed from prior street artists like Mike Kelley, an important ideological and stylistic touchstone for Pettibon’s work. Additionally, he was an ardent champion of Pettibon’s and an occasional collaborator.
Connections can be made between Pettibon and Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein or underground cartoonist Robert Crumb, but in interviews Pettibon is reluctant to align himself with any particular movement or individual. Indeed, he is quick to eschew the narrow-minded notion that he was merely punk rock’s primary flier boy. He’s revealed frustration over punk fans’ failure to delve further into his non-music-related work, but perhaps he is also wary of being labeled as a thoughtless commissionary a la Norman Rockwell. (He stresses that his work for Black Flag was created without the actual music in mind.)
Regardless, Pettibon’s position in the advancement of Black Flag’s music and image was the very antithesis of the petrified boy shivering in the corner on the cover of 1982’s Six Pack EP—he was at the center of it all, arguably as crucial to the band as anyone not named Greg Ginn or Henry Rollins.
By: Ross McGowan
Published on: 2005-06-07