Raymond Pettibon: The Punk Years, 1978-1986, is a trip down memory lane to a specific time and place in American post-Vietnam pop culture. The Southern California punk-rock scene, centered in Los Angeles, owes a good part of its notoriety (and following) to the graphic, illustrative efforts of artist Pettibon, patron saint of seminal punk bands like Black Flag. It was a singular merging of malaise-fueled musical and visual expression in which attitude trumped aesthetics. This touring exhibit, on display at Boise State's Visual Arts Center through Wednesday, March 28, underscores how Pettibon deserves the credit.
Given the diversity and scale of the 200 works, a conventional line-up exhibit format would have proven too fast-paced. Instead, Gallery Director Kirsten Furlong cleverly created four large clusters of his work, tightly bunching together fliers, stickers, 45s and album covers, artist books and posters as they might be displayed in a fan's bedroom, or on the front windows of Neurolux. Each group is a mix of the above, with larger, more colorful pieces anchoring the center. It forces the viewer to spend time discovering the numerous gems buried within while coming face-to-face with the general helter-skelter ambience of the scene.
The majority of the work in the show is in good shape, not faded or too beat up, but still bold and authentic--the fliers still sport the pinholes from public postings. One reason they have held up is that most are not photocopies but offset printed and screenprinted productions, which is pretty remarkable for a subculture cottage industry. The only disappointment is the audience's inability to investigate the interiors of the books.
Pettibon worked in pen and ink, and his dark insistence is epitomized in the Black Flag name and logo, which is everywhere in the show. The explicit, depraved, often-violent imagery strikes one as movie stills from "B" horror films or porn flicks. Many could be low-budget film noir advertisements. The influence of these film genres is undeniable when seen in the flesh.
It is worth taking your time with each group in the exhibit. Hidden among the Black Flag overload are less-intense, but edgily entertaining vignettes, like the Minutemen single and album called Paranoid Time, whose Oriental stereotypes are actually quite funny. Pettibon's flier The Circle Jerks at the Fleetwood is a nice nod to R. Crumb.
Evidence of Pettibon's fascination with Charles Manson can be found, as well, with Manson depicted in the company of his female followers, who carve his trademark X into each others' foreheads, or literally nail him to a cross (see Black Flag at the Starwood [Christ]). Curiously, Pettibon signs the Manson pieces "St. Pettibon" as if bonding with Manson's perverted sense of sainthood.