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Loose Nut In His Head: Raymond Pettibon Rediscovered...

Human depravity, sexualized violence, macabre desires come to life in two dimensions; this is the world artist Raymond Pettibon renders in pen and ink. It is a world mirrored sonically by the band he formerly played with, Black Flag, and the label where he acted as visual curator, SST, for much of the late ‘70s and ‘80s.

Most familiar with the hardcore punk scene of this time will remember Pettibon’s comic book influenced drawings. They adorned telephone poles, streetlights and album covers. Flyers depicting police officers with guns lodged in the their mouths, nuns brandishing shiny steel hedge clippers, and other disturbing scenes accompanied by cryptic captions, advertised shows by Black Flag, Circle Jerks, DOA, and many other bands of that period. In 1990 he did the artwork for Sonic Youth’s “Goo”. The album cover has been both one of his most enduring and typifying images.

While his artwork has since become iconic and synonymous with this period in punk music, few know the artist responsible. Fewer still know he was the original bassist for Black Flag; a band started by his older brother, guitarist/songwriter and SST label founder, Greg Ginn. Pettibon was responsible for suggesting the name Black Flag reasoning, "If a white flag means surrender, a black flag represents anarchy." He also created the four black bar logo that served as the band’s emblem.

His art conjures R. Crumb and Ralph Steadman, two other artists whose illustrative approach are often attached to a literary narrative. Crumb and Steadman partnered with writers Charles Bukowski and Hunter S. Thompson respectively, while Pettibon borrows text and verse from a variety of sources, including those of his own creation. He cities Henry James, Ruskin, and Mickey Spillane as literary inspirations, whose prose, often inspire and accompany his drawings. The noir themes and world the characters in his art inhabit dovetails perfectly with the grit and naked aggression associated with hardcore. His art helped to inform the gutter poetry and paranoia inherent in the genre.

Pettibon has since gone on to earn the prestigious Bucksbaum award in 2004, given to artists every two years that have exhibited at the Whitney Biennial. His work is part of the permanent collection at the MoMA in New York, Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the MoMA in San Francisco, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in addition to the Whitney Museum of American Art. Despite achieving some renown in art circles he is still relatively unknown beyond the underground subculture. Recently, he has begun recording and playing music again with his band the Niche Makers. The music is described as, “New Orleans on cheap wine and canned martini's” and a record is slated for an early 2009 release.

His art seems particularly timely today and worthy of exploring. On a recent trip to New York City, a visit to the Chelsea art galleries revealed several artists working in Pettibon’s graphic cartoon style. The violent themes, sexual content, and hard-boiled view of life on display were undeniably influenced by his uniquely American vision. Given the resurgence in hardcore, with bands like the Gallows and Fucked Up looking back to bands like Black Flag for inspiration, some of Pettibon’s imagery is sure to seep into the popular consciousness. God help us all.


Is It Art? Laurel Nakadate: Provocateur, Manipulator, Lolita...

Laurel Nakadate may be this decade’s most inspired, prescient, and provocative video artist and photographer. Or, she may be the most exploitive, manipulative, and narcissistic artist of her generation. She has been described as both by art critics. Although her art can be polarizing and controversial, it refuses to be easily dismissed.

Nakadate, based out of New York City, is perhaps best known for her videos and photographs, which depict the artist in constructed scenes of seduction with middle-aged lonely hearts. The men selected for these encounters with the stunningly attractive artist, are the types who go unnoticed by the female gaze in daily life. These works examine male self-delusion, loneliness, gender roles, and the predatory and dangerous nature of chance encounters, to often-unnerving effect.

Nakadate is as much the focus of her work as the men she interacts with. As a viewer, it is sometimes difficult to separate the artist from the hyper-sexualized participant. Like artists Cindy Sherman and Hannah Wilke-who also inject themselves physically into their work-this ability to transcend “self” while infusing so much of it into her art, is what makes Nakadate’s work so compelling. The erotic subtext of much of her films and photographs might be better understood as pretext.

These images seem to subvert conventional ideas of what constitutes "intimacy" between people. The artist seems to be commenting on the distance sexual needs and relationships can create. Many societal taboos concerning violence, death, and suicide are sexualized. Nakadate often casts herself in the role of "Lolita" in her work. Her art requires that you reconcile primal reactions to what you see with the intellectual genesis behind them.

Most recently, Nakadate has completed her first feature length film as director. The film, entitled “Stay The Same Never Change”, is due to debut at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009. This medium should prove an interesting canvas for the artist to expand and meld the inherent narratives and visual sensibilities of her art. The film was cast entirely with non-professional actors. Stills from the film convey the alienation and subjugation of life in small-town America. These themes are perfectly suited to the artist’s well-trained eyes and ears, as exampled by her body of work thus far.

Laurel Nakadate’s art is particularly relevant for a time when social networking, self-documenting, and reality based programming dominate our culture. The by-product of a people living an increasingly virtual existence, often removed from actual experience by camera lenses and computer screens, can be a profound loss of connectivity-the very thing these technologies are designed to enhance.

Nakadate often stares unflinchingly into the camera, as the men in her films fixate on her. This level of self-awareness would appear to mirror the virtual world so many prefer to inhabit. Laurel Nakadate is at the fore of asking uncomfortable questions that elicit equally uncomfortable answers.

For further reading on Laurel Nakadate see links below: