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‘Homo Americanus’ by Raymond Pettibon

Censored version of cover

Censored version of cover

For those of us who grew up listening to punk rock and other alternative music the name Raymond Pettibon is inextricably linked to the US punk band Black Flag. Pettibon designed the four bar logo and even came up with the name. But it is his contribution to the artwork for the album covers and flyers that was his main contribution to the band. Indeed it’s difficult thinking of the band without also thinking of the images that Pettibon created. His original work was in black & white pen and ink, the themes were generally about violence, hippies, punks, suburbia etc. Typically his work was a single page comic-art drawing with a short description or speech that was either intended to shock or be taken ironically.

For years I had tried to get some books or magazines that contained his artwork but had no luck. I had seen copies of his magazine, Tripping Corpse, advertised along with the Black Flag merchandise but it was impossible to obtain here in the UK. Even since the advent of the internet I had looked to see if there were any collections available (at a reasonable price) of Pettibon’s work but whenever I had looked the results were sparse. However at the end of last year I came across this huge book that had been released containing artwork from Pettibon’s career from his punk days up to the present day. I had to get it.

Pettibon’s work is now considered worthy of gallery space rather than as a throwaway flyer for a punk band. I’m not sure what to make of this but if it allows him to continue to work, and get paid for it, then it’s a good thing in my eyes. The book, Homo Americanus, is an excellent overview of his work and although it’s arranged thematically we can see how his work has changed and progressed over the years. Pettibon’s early work was always black & white and although I’m a big fan of black & white pen and ink/comic art I find that Pettibon handles colour excellently in his work. Specific examples, which can be seen in the gallery below, are the pictures of hearts which are all in glorious blood reds and his surfer pictures, especially the one where the sea is in red, rather than blue, giving the impression that the surfer is surfing on fire rather than water.

Other themes of interest are steam trains, penises, the bible, Gumby, Jesus, Charles Manson, surfing, baseball, mushroom clouds, the Easter Island statues, the Iraq war etc. Of his later work I particularly like some of the Easter Island statue pieces as well as the heart and surfing ones. I’m not too keen on the pieces where he started to add huge amounts of text to the work, much of it is obscure and has little relevance to the work even if it is relevant for the artist.

The book also contains commentaries by Pettibon that explain the background to the pieces together with how and why they were produced. There are also notes and biographical details at the back of the book. Looking online there is still a hell of a lot of material that isn’t included in this book, especially of his earlier work, but this book should keep any fan of Pettibon’s work satisfied for now.

Please note that the cover picture at the top of the post was censored by me as I wasn’t too sure how sensitive people are about images of erect penises popping up on whatever device they’re using to view this post. I have however included the uncensored cover image in the gallery below. I know that sometimes when I view a post on my phone’s app it doesn’t always choose the main picture as the header so if you get one of the uncensored pictures then I must apologise. I tried to limit too many violent or sexual images in the gallery but if you are especially sensitive to such things then it may be best to avoid looking at it as it’s difficult to totally avoid it with Pettibon’s work and I didn’t want to sanitise it too much.

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