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First exhibition dedicated to Raymond Pettibon’s Surfers

By Louise Lui

Venus Over Manhattan will present the first exhibition dedicated to Raymond Pettibon’s acclaimed “surfer paintings”. Are Your Motives Pure? brings together 40 works from 1987-2012, and includes small, monochrome India ink paintings to vibrant, large-scale paintings up to ten feet wide. Pettibon’s work revolves around America’s history, literature, sports, religion, politics, and sexuality, in a comic book, “do-it-yourself” aesthetic characteristic of Southern California. Images and text are dynamically combined, incorporating symbols ranging from baseball players and vixens to railway trains and light bulbs. Perhaps the most poetic of Pettibon’s symbols is the surfer –a lone figure challenging a massive wave. In Pettibon’s work, the surfer becomes a counter-culture, existentialist hero elevated to the top of his repertory of American icons.

Almost all the works on view depict chaotic, swelling ocean waves along with meandering texts and poetry. The exhibition title refers to the earliest work on view, Untitled (Are Your Motives Pure?), a black ink painting of a lone surfer cutting his line across a towering wall of water, while the artist’s seemingly rhetorical question hovers above. His larger, later and more monumental surfer works reveal more associations and analogies, such as Untitled (That fact of…).

In this work, couples surfer and wave with an atomic mushroom cloud and text that restates Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Physics. The exhibition culminates in Pettibon’s most recent surfer paintings, which are dedicated to the vast force of Nature herself. A tiny surfer amid a colossal wall of blue water, the paintings invites reflection and introspection on ego and fame, naiveté and bravery, loneliness and mortality.

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