September 28, 2011  |  Artists, Collection & Exhibitions
Raymond Pettibon’s Perfect Wave
Raymond Pettibon. No Title (The bright flatness). 2003

Raymond Pettibon. No Title (The bright flatness). 2003. Watercolor on paper. The Museum of Modern Art. The Judith Rothschild Foundation Contemporary Drawings Collection Gift, 2005 

Recently my colleagues in MoMA’s Department of Film have blogged about their favorite summer films in tandem with the current film series Hot and Humid: Summer Films from the Archives and invited Inside/Out readers to suggest their own favorites. While mine might technically be disqualified because it has the word “summer” in it, one of my all-time favorite summer films is the 1966 documentary The Endless Summer. While I can’t bring this film to you in the theaters, in honor of the end of the summer season I share here with you one of my favorite summer-esque drawings in the Museum’s collection—a lone surfer riding the ultimate, gorgeously blue wave in No Title (The bright flatness), by Raymond Pettibon.

Based in southern California, Pettibon started self-publishing “zines” in the late 1970s and designed album covers and concert posters for the band Black Flag, in which his brother, Greg Ginn, was the lead guitarist. In the early 1980s Pettibon began juxtaposing bits of text culled from philosophy, film noir, comics, pulp fiction, and punk music with sketched cartoon-like imagery that would evolve into his signature prolific style. Almost exclusively drawing on paper, Pettibon portrays the darker sides of society with humor and biting irony while erasing the boundary between high and low art and culture.

Surfer imagery is one of several reoccurring subjects in Pettibon’s work. In this drawing, as the awesome blue wave curls around the surfer, rendered a speck by the expanse of the Pacific, we are left contemplating the passage, “The bright flatness of the California landscape needs a dark vaulted interior.” Is the figure doomed for a tragic wipeout, or will he prevail and come out through the end of the tube?

Surf’s up.