For all of you chilling in the Northeast: you may not always find yourselves at the hub of surf culture, but a new art exhibit in Manhattan is bringing the swell to New York City. This month, in a show titled “Are Your Motives Pure?” American punk artist Raymond Pettibon displays over 25 years of surf art at New York’s Venus Over Manhattan gallery.
A California native who’s based in L.A., Pettibon is famous for his work in the punk rock world, which includes designing the iconic logo for hardcore punk band Black Flag. He’s also lent his comic book/noir style to tons of album covers over the years — gritty artwork that often includes strange and cryptic text, as in the classic Sonic Youth album cover for “Goo.”
This latest exhibit, though, is a world apart from the punker album art that Pettibon is best known for. While he doesn’t consider himself to be a surfer per se, Pettibon has spent the better part of three decades painting surfers and surf scenes. With surf art dating from 1985 to 2013, the exhibit brings together a sublime if not existential outlook on surfing.
Viewed from an outsider’s perspective, surfing for Pettibon seems to represent a particular philosophy or psychological state — a place for contemplation, an acceptance of the largeness of nature and smallness of humankind. Whether it’s a tiny, solitary surfer engulfed by an overwhelming blue composition, or poetic fragments and musings on the “perfection of bodily well being,” the elements that make up Pettibon’s surf art bring a new insight to the sport and its culture.
And while most of the artist’s work over the years has tended toward smaller scale black-and-white paintings and illustrations — dark, edgy stuff communicating the angst of marginalization — the surf art featured in “Are Your Motives Pure?” seems a lot more liberated, both in its use of rich color and big, sweeping scales.
Freer and more upbeat, though no less thoughtful than much of Pettibon’s other work, The New York Times Style Magazine has called the surf paintings “a slick and sunny slice of American pop culture,” while Vanity Fair is listing the exhibit as one of this month’s must-see art shows, right up there with Gaugin and Jackson Pollock.
Worth checking out whether you’re into surf, punk, counterculture, comics, or just cool art in general, “Are Your Motives Pure?” runs at Venus Over Manhattan gallery until May 17. Get the details at the gallery’s website here.