Portraits of Artists 05

Conversation with Raymond Pettibon

Hudson: When I first started to see drawings by Raymond, I was most interested in the gap that exists between the meaning of the words and then the meaning of the image. And I guess what I found most interesting was that the gap was consistent in almost every single drawing that I saw. I found that to be a sort of a sign that there was something special and very interesting going on in this person that could create that space so that there were multiple residences of meanings in each drawing. I was hoping, Raymond, that you could talk a little bit about what your interest is in that space between sort of no meaning and multiple meanings? (.) Did you set out to make, to create that gap? Or did you find that somehow that started to happen as you started to mix the text and the image together, and that you made a decision about what is interesting to you? Raymond Pettibon: That is not something that is really prearranged in my mind as a part of my art. It's more or less how my mind works and how reality is set up for me, I think. And I try. to approach meaning, if this is what we are talking about, probably from a round edge or roundabout meanings. I have not been able, not been successful to define meaning that directly, anyway, so it's just a kind of roundabout approach. H: It seems like that; because a lot of times, when you read a Pettibon drawing and look at the picture, the coordination between who is saying what – if there are two individuals in this drawing and then you have a text – is really typically unclear. That can be read back in multiple ways, which seems to be that you allow the viewer the widest range of possibilities. RP: Yes, first of all it is allowing myself that full range of possibilities as well. The way I think there is not any straight line of thought usually. I would not say that any of those multiple voices are my own, necessarily. I don't tend to have deep opinions or thoughts about much of anything, and it is really not important to me that I express something that is my own anyway. But if I was there might be many different points of view within just one page, one drawing. I have always tried to say as much as possible, or to open up as much as possible and with the least means. And that was more my aesthetic there, where I was just taking a phrase or a sentence and I kind of moved up the unit of a paragraph or more. H: Writing on a page in terms of a narrative, or writing on a page in terms of an image? RP: Narrative or not, on the page or not. H: I think that is an area that has not really been addressed in your work: literature, the literary aspect. People typically seem to draw the line, the reference to comics. But I think that is ultimately, actually quite small and the traditions that your work approaches or is interested in, are much more historical than that, and your interest in literature seems to be something yet to be really discussed with your work. RP: That whole issue is really not a concern of mine at all. Because the drawing style is based on what I have learned from people like Milton Conneff or Barry, or is just a kind of a general comic illustrative style. There is not really much of a personality in my work visually, and it is not just confined to that field. I am basically starting with generic illustrative style, and it is not something that really can stand on its own. It's really just a setup when I am writing about, and that is really all the concern of that it is to me. As far as what comics are as a source of ideas and anything, that is not existing. It is very hard for me to read comics, I just can't get through. That is very hard for me even to read them, to read them at all. H: Did you go to art school? RP: No. H: What did you study in college? RP: Well, my degree is in economics. (.) H: What was your interest in economics? RP: Well, it became a kind of a dead end to me, because we were just reaching the Reagan years end, and that is like a wall, you know, you go up against, and you are looking at the next 8, 12, 16 years of.– and even to think in economic terms, it just became a little depressing. H: But initially, what was your interest to study that? RP: Well, economics is, I think, almost a truer field than psychology, because people are such economic beings. It is to me just about the primary social science and of importance in a lot of ways. But I was a kind of a protégé, I mean, my interests were at a very young age. By the time I committed myself in college, I had already grown out of it, lost interest in it (.). Actually more of my education is in literature than that. H: When did you begin drawing? RP: I always drew the way a kid draws. H: And was text always part of it? RP: Yes, I mean, I am still likely to do a drawing very rarely that does not have text. But it always was to about the same degree it is now. H: And sometimes you do works on paper that are just text. There is one at the exhibition at Gallery Metropol that is actually the back cover of the catalogue. It says: "I will always think of you". I think that is what it says and that is a very nice play between the way a person typically looks at a piece of art, and tries to remember it, and then you have the sort of art that is supposing to remembering the viewer. RP: That piece is a little obvious, I think, it is not one of my most successful ones. I guess it goes along with the exhibit, I don't know, I have to think about it. I don't know if it really stands on its own as well as some of the other ones, but I am not sure sometimes, I cannot always track what I was thinking when I did something. Sometimes it comes back to me, and I see it in a different light. Sometimes I need a lot of help, and what other people might think might make that come back to me. And that could be an entirely different reading, altogether. (Vienna, June 1992)