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Artist Raymond Pettibon on His Scrawled Revelations

In recent weeks, Raymond Pettibon has been thatching one of David Zwirner Gallery’s big white rooms with lyrically diffident, bleakly funny drawings. But on the day I arrive (he’s late, blaming too much coffee), they are still scattered about the floor, waiting to reveal a pattern to their maker. Some have footprints on them. Leaning against a wall is a painting of the big Ewok face of his Brussels griffon, Boo, who bounds in and promptly pees on a doggy pad. “Sometimes it’s on the art,” Pettibon says, untroubled.

His work table is strewn with brushes and Solo cups, bottles of booze, a basket of peanuts, an overhead projector, two $50 bills, and yellowing paperbacks. Next to Cheever’s Bullet Park is one on the Catholic mystic St. John of the Cross. (Pettibon was raised Christian Scientist, but his uncle was a Trappist monk in rural Kentucky.) Pettibon has his own faith in the revelation provided by his collaging of cultural clutter. He tells me he thinks his paintings will, by the time the show opens on September 12, be grouped under epigrammatic headlines. “Drawings which have some kind of affinity — but they won’t necessarily have to. And they’ll have titles to them.”

Pettibon is 56, a Hermosa Beach punk whose older brother founded the band Black Flag. In the early nineties, after years of making his abject drawings, some of which became album covers, he was invited into the art world. He moved from L.A. to New York a few years ago, though “it wasn’t with any intention or plan on my part. I don’t really call the shots.” The person who seems to is his wife, the video artist Aïda Ruilova. “We were in Venice — I had a studio and a house by the beach — but it was kind of taken over, by basically squatters and family, and the situation was untenable.” (They now live in the squatter-unfriendly Gehry high-rise.) Scrawled on one wall at Zwirner, in pencil, is this: HOW CAN YOU HATE THE MAGICYK WHICH MAKES OF A PARAGRAPH OR A SENTENCE OR A LINE OF DIALOGUE OR A DESCRIPTION SOMETHING IN THE NATURE OF A NEW CREATION? He tells me he’s not sure whether that’ll be painted over for the opening.