Drop What You’re Doing And Read The Story of Emil Ferris

NOTHING stops Emil Ferris.

-Not the West Nile virus that left her paralyzed from the waist down at 40, while she happened to be the single mom of a 6 year old daughter.

-Not the resulting loss of the use of her right (drawing) hand.

-Not being so poor she learned to live on free bank coffee and food store samples.

-Not having to relearn how to use her hand and eventually even rising from her wheelchair to be able to walk, again, with the aid of a cane, or two on a “bad day”.

-Not even the loss of the entire run of her book when the Chinese shipping company transporting them went bankrupt resulting in their ship being confiscated at the Panama Canal.

“‘I was also severely hunchbacked, which is why I loved monsters,” Ms. Ferris said. “‘Absolutely astonishing,’ Chris Ware,” is quoted at the bottom

Those are some bullet points. Ms. Ferris, herself, draws her story better than I can tell it—–> here. And, you can actually hang out with her while she draws, here. The Times wrote about her, here.

There are few, if any, stories in today’s Art world more compelling, and more downright remarkable than that of Emil Ferris. What this Artist has overcome to produce her riveting and extraordinarily well done first graphic novel, “Mr Favortie Thing is Monsters” is nothing short of astounding.

All 400 pages of it.

A signed copy.

Though I recently listed her among those I feel should have been included in the Whitney Biennial, I would be extremely remiss if I did not add my voice to the chorus lauding her accomplishment, unbelievable inner fortitude, unimaginable dedication, AND talent. But, my voice will not even register alongside those of the “father of the graphic novel,” Pulitzer Prize winner, Art Spiegelman (Ms. Ferris’ “hero.” She cried after he shook her damaged right hand in congratulations last winter), and the contemporary master of the graphic novel, fellow Chicagoan Chris Ware- both have heaped raves on Ms. Ferris and her book.

I’m not here to sell you anything, but if you were to go out and buy a copy of it from your favorite brick and mortar Bookstore, now that the second edition of it is out, you’d be supporting a very deserving Artist.

…like The Strand. I love Heather’s signs, but I don’t endorse violence…especially against Art books.

No matter what the rest of the year brings the Art World, 2017 will, also, be remembered as the year Emil Ferris overcame EVERYTHING, and, then astonished the world.

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “Shining Star,” by Earth, Wind & Fire.

Thanks to kitty for research assistance.

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

On The Beatles…and Sgt. Pepper’s 50th

Today, June 18th, is Sir Paul McCartney’s 75th Birthday. Happy Birthday, Sir Paul, and many more!

When it came out 50 years ago, on June 1, 1967, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was nothing less than the biggest tsunami in popular Music since, well…”Meet The Beatles.” A defining moment in modern music, splitting musical time into before, and after, it’s aftershocks have been so all-encompassing, it’s hard to listen to most of what’s come after and not hear some of it’s influence.

Though Traffic, the Beach Boys, The Who and the Jimi Hendrix Experience (who’s seismic “Are You Experienced?,” the first album I ever bought, was released on May 12, some 19 days before “Sgt. Pepper’s”) were doing wonderously creative things with expanding the boundaries of rock, nothing else sounded anything like it, really. It cut across genres and audiences. No matter what they had listened to before, everyone listened to it when it came out1. When you think about that, it’s downright amazing given how experimental, even avant garde, quite a bit of it was. “Avant garde” and “experimental” is almost always a ticket to popular failure. Producer Sir George Martin was behind some of it- both technically (managing the recording, and facilitating the Beatles’ ideas ), and musically (doing the string and brass arrangements). Drugs, the expansive cultural, spiritual and musical explorations of The Beatles, themselves, were the rest of it. Still, in spite of all the changes going on, personally, and in the music, the whole thing hung together perfectly- from the opening background noises to the final backward voices, ending the unprecedented, all too real/all too surreal “A Day In The Life.”

It was a product of the moment, becoming the soundtrack for the “Summer of Love,” one that, also, took music a big step forward, and showed us the future.

Sir Paul McCartney performing at Yankee Stadium, July 2011, on his original Hofner “Beatle Bass,” one of the most historic musical instruments in the world. He actually remains under-appreciated as a musician, as are some of his projects, like “The Fireman.” Click any image to see it full sized.

The “concept album” had truly arrived (with all due respect to “In the Wee Small Hours,” by Frank Sinatra, 1955, a staple over here at the NHNYC.com offices, “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys, released May, 1966, and a few others). As a result, to this day, when you put it on, I think it should be listened to it all the way through.

Now, with the release of the new 50th Anniversary “Deluxe Edition” Box Set, things are getting complicated. So, I need to specify what I mean by “it”- Listen to the 13 songs on the original album all the way through. Which brings me to what I feel is a little bit of a problem. The new “Deluxe Edition” is NOT (I feel) the best way to experience Sgt. Pepper’s for the first time. With all due respect to Giles Martin, who has (partially) remixed Sgt. Pepper’s for the Deluxe Edition, mixing his version from the original 4 track tapes. See footnote 2 for more details on this2 After a listen to the new mix, I prefer to stick with the original mix.

Giles’ Dad, Sir George Martin, was one of the greatest Producers in the history of recorded Music. You could make a very strong case and say he’s The Greatest, but I don’t believe comparing creativity, or creative people. In any event, his mix ain’t broke. Don’t “fix” it. I don’t think the “sonic upgrade” of the new stereo mix is that big to sacrifice something that was an integral part of the finished album, like this part of George Martin’s contribution was3. It was something he created WITH The Beatles. You’re dealing with master tapes that were recorded in 1967. There’s only so much that can be done to “improve them” sonically, and those come with tradeoffs-

Questionably “better” sound quality vs. losing some of the original experience, and, most importantly, the Artist’s intentions.

Sir Paul performs “Something,” on a Ukulele given to him by George Harrison.

Frankly, for those reasons, I prefer to stick with original mixes of just about every album ever made, and as reissues pile up, they get harder to find- you have to know what you’re looking for4. As a producer? I wouldn’t want anyone else messing around with my mix, and I was no Sir George Martin. “Technological advances” are a mixed blessing, bringing good and bad. Just ask anyone who prefers Lp’s to CD’s. (I’m not saying I do.)

Finally, the Deluxe Edition comes with a lot of extras. There are a seemingly infinite number of Beatles’ outtakes that have circulated among fans and traders over the years, and while many of them are fascinating, if you haven’t heard the original album, wait until you have it memorized before listening to them. The “Making of” Doc, included with the Deluxe Edition, sounds fascinating. I’m sure the book is good, too. All in all? It sounds like a supplement to having the original recording. NOT a replacement for it.

“Hey, Sir Paul! What do you think of the new Sgt. Pepper’s Mix?”

In all of this, I have not seen any mention of the involvement of Sir Paul and Ringo (who were directly involved with the original, of course, with due respect to Yoko and the Harrisons) in it. And, I haven’t been able to find out what Sir Paul thinks about the new mix. His website has him only commenting on the passage of time re: “Sgt. Pepper’s” 50th, but I found this comment critical-

“It’s crazy to think that 50 years later we are looking back on this project with such fondness and a little bit of amazement at how four guys, a great producer and his engineers could make such a lasting piece of art.”

I think that tells you all you need to know. He includes Sir George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick, as part of the creative team5.

“I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in,
And stops my mind from wandering
Where it will go.”*

I believe the integrity of all of their work should be respected, and preserved.

But? With the passing of time, there’s no way I’m going to win that fight. There’s too much money aligned on the other side in reissuing records- just beware of anyone who tells you it’s “new & improved.” This, unfortunately, goes on in Art, too. After Artists pass away, increasingly their estates are continuing to issue/reissue their work. I have very mixed feelings about this. I’ll go to Photo shows and see “recent prints” that just aren’t up to the level of the quality of prints made by the Artist during their lifetime. This hurts the Artist’s reputation, in my opinion. In music, we now stand at the precipice of whatever will be done regarding Prince’s unreleased Mt. Everest of material. If you don’t think that’s going to materially impact his legacy, think again. Quick- How many albums did Jimi Hendrix release during his lifetime6? I feel for any new listener to his music faced with the dauntless task of looking through the list of COUNTLESS albums with his name on them, which are STILL being released 47 years after his death, and trying to find them.

The message in all of this? Buyer beware. Luckily? After 50 years? Most people already have “Sgt. Pepper’s.” So? On the 50th Anniversary (month) of it’s release put it on and give it a listen. All the way through. It’s an Album. Remember them?

Many since have tried. There’s still nothing like it.

Finally? When all else has been said…Think about this for one minute…

How HARD is it to connect with even one person who becomes special in your life? I still marvel that The Beatles FOUND each other!

Never in the whole history of Western Music (1200 a.d. to 1900) have two musical Geniuses collaborated before (as far as I know).

J.S. Bach was too busy raising 10 sons (each of whom became a noted, or great, composer), writing, rehearsing AND performing a new cantata each week, performing his regular church duties, and writing the rest of his incomparable music to collaborate with Handel. Mozart and Beethoven? Never happened. Brahms and Schumann? Nope. Brahms and MRS. Clara Schumann…? Romance doesn’t count. This is a 20th Century phenomenon. George & Ira Gershwin…Bernstein & Sondheim…Miles Davis & John Coltrane…Miles & Wayne Shorter…My list may be different than your’s. Here you have John Lennon & Paul McCartney, two of the very greatest songwriters in the history of Music. Alongside them? George Harrison, no slouch (and continually under-rated) himself. Heck…Who WOULDN’T be “under-rated” next to those two? I often wonder what George must have felt (from time to time? often?). On the one hand he had people wanting a “better lead guitarist,” his friend, Eric Clapton, perhaps, to replace him in The Beatles. On the other hand, he was lucky to get 1 or 2 songs on each Beatles album, NO MATTER how good his songs were! (Witness the then unheard of THREE Lp set he released soon after The Beatles split, “All Things Must Pass.” Talk about being “pent up!” “Within You, Without You,” was his song on “Sgt. Pepper’s.”) But? He was the “perfect” guitarist for The Beatles, as Ringo was the “perfect” drummer for them. That the four of them found each other?

It’s miraculous, in my book.

If you don’t think so? Point out to me the LAST time this happened in any of the Arts.

The Beatles were a gift from the Universe.

*- Soundtrack for this is “Fixing A Hole,” by Lennon & McCartney, from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and published by Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC.

On The Fence,#8, The Birds & The Bees-tles” Edition.

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  1. Myself included, and I wasn’t into The Beatles until “Strawberry Fields Forever” was released, on February 13, 1967, as a single, presaging “Sgt. Pepper’s”
  2. Sgt. Pepper’s was recorded on 4 tracks, which is astounding when you think about that today. In 1995, my version of “Strawberry Fields Forever” was recorded on 48 tracks. The Beatles would fill up 3 of the 4 tracks, then mix those down to the open 4th track. Then they’d repeat the process until they had filled all four tracks (I’m simplifying. There was more “bouncing” of tracks to open up other tracks involved.), the resulting tape was then mixed down to a final, stereo two track Master, which is what the records were made from- both in Stereo, and yes, in Mono. Both of those have been reissued, in the “Complete” Stereo and Mono Boxsets, and I prefer them, at the moment, among the recent incarnations of The Beatles albums.
  3. Giles Martin also did a 5.1 mix. You’re on you’re own there, since his dad didn’t do one, as far as I know. I have not heard it as yet.
  4. For example- Try finding the original mixes of Miles Davis’ Columbia albums, some of the greatest and most important music of the century, on CD. It’s hard. Early, now rare, Japanese import CD’s had them. Most likely you have to go back to the Lp’s for them, but make sure they’re vintage.
  5.  They did a Q&A with him about Sgt. Pepper’s BEFORE the Deluxe Edition was announced, here. Also, Pepper’s recording engineer Geoff Emerick said he “hadn’t heard it”, the new mix, in an interview
  6. The answer is 3 studio Lp’s- “Are You Experienced?,””Axis:Bold as Love”, and “Electric Ladyland,” and 3 live albums- the other 2 of which, besides “Band of Gypsys,” I’m not sure how much he had to do with.

Q&A With Master Painter Rod Penner

During the recent show, “Rod Penner,” at Ameringer McEnery Yohe, I was fascinated watching visitor’s reactions to the work.

While it was hard to know if they were familiar with Rod Penner’s work, most seemed taken, startled & impressed with his incredible technique. But then, they lingered. Often for quite a while. I well know that feeling. How well the paintings are done is a hook that grabs your attention and pulls you in. What happens then? Well…That’s up to the individual viewer.


When you finally step back, you marvel that all of that took place in a space that’s 6 by 6 inches or 5 by 7 1/2 inches. When this first happened to me, in April, 2016, I was left with wonder. I wanted to know more about him and his art. Since I’ve now written about him and this show twice, perhaps others are curious, too. The AMY show answered some of my questions, primarily- Yes. He is THAT good. But, it raised others. I am very pleased to report that, after the show ended, and he arrived safely back in his now long time home in Texas, Rod Penner graciously agreed to answer some of my questions in a very rare Q&A. (For those interested in exploring his work still further, I’ve appended a list of resources known to me at the end of this Post. I welcome hearing about others I don’t know of.) What I’ve learned thus far has confirmed, at least to me, his place as a major Artist. That leaves the other question…

Who is Rod Penner?

“It’s your last chance
To check under the hood
Last chance
She ain’t soundin’ too good,
Your last chance
To trust the man with the star
You’ve found the last chance Texaco”*

Having previously shown his recent, small paintings, here’s one of his larger works. “Farmers Co-op Gin/Anson, TX” 20″ x 32,” 2012, All works by Rod Penner, Acrylic on Canvas, and are from rodpenner.com and amy-ny.com, unless otherwise noted. Click any image to see it full size.

Every work in virtually every show of Rod Penner’s work these past 25 years sold. Remarkable. Those owners are not parting with those pieces, which can be seen in his work not coming up at auction (as far as I know). 8 of the 9 pieces in this recent show were sold before the show opened. I believe the time has come for a closer look at what’s going on here.

“Joker Coffee Shop,” 6″ x 6,” 2016

What’s going on here, succinctly, is that Rod Penner is quietly creating a remarkably excellent body of Paintings, one that provides all the proof needed that he is a Master Painter.

“Ranch View, Vaughn MN,” 12′ x 18,” 2013. Compare this with the next two.

Not wanting to take up too much of Mr. Penner’s valuable time, with repetition of things John Seed has addressed in his 3 pieces about the Artist, my questions serve as supplements to those articles (linked at the end). What follows is about his life, and his Art, but I also felt it was important to ask this Master Painter about Art- What he looks for when he looks at Art. Mr. Penner has a deep knowledge of Art History and he is very open minded to styles & periods, perhaps surprisingly so to some. Typically, when I met him at the show’s opening, he told me he was off to The Met while he was in town to see “The Mysterious Landscapes of Hercules Segers.” So? Having a great interest in all of this, I also had to ask him which Painters and periods he feels go under-appreciated these days.

“54 Grill, Vaughn, MN,” 30.5″x 64,” 2016

“Ranch View, Vaughn MN,” 4 INCHES x 4 INCHES!, 2013. These three works show 3 views of the same place, something Mr. Penner would revisit, in a way, in his recent show. This is the work that hooked me- the first piece of Mr. Penner’s I saw in April, 2016. Previously, I associated scenes like this with William Eggleston. Now? I think of Rod Penner.

Kenn Sava (KS)- In reading about your background, you’ve mentioned your folks being supportive of your skill and development, but I haven’t been able to learn if you studied with someone, if you studied Art in school, or if you are self-taught, as well as what road your education and development as an Artist took. Were you painting when you arrived in Texas? If so, were they the same (general) style as the work we see on your site from 1992, or did you ever work in a different style?

Rod Penner (RP)- Growing up, our family enjoyed camping, hunting, and fishing. I painted wildlife during this time, emulating the work of Robert Bateman and other Canadian wildlife artists.

After graduating from high school, I attended a local community college for one year and then transferred to Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma where I graduated with a B.A. degree in Studio Art, and while I found myself at odds with certain aspects of the theology, overall it was a positive experience. It was at ORU where I met my beautiful wife, Debbie, and we both made lifelong friends among the students and faculty.

Following college, we married in 1986 and moved to British Columbia. when I started intensely studying the work of Canadian realist painters, Christopher Pratt and Alex Colville. I had a lot of wildlife art commissions at this time and even started selling through a well-known gallery in Denver but the animals became less and less important in my paintings. In 1988, Debbie’s brother was killed in a biking accident, so we moved down to Texas to spend time with her family. We ended up staying and I welcomed the change as a way to start over with my art and break away completely from what I was doing. I got a part-time job teaching, but Debbie worked full time so I could paint. She has always believed in me and supported my efforts. The same year that our second child was born in 1991, my youngest brother died in a plane crash. Nine months later, I gained representation by Ivan Karp and his O.K. Harris gallery, allowing Debbie to quit work in order to stay at home to raise our children. I’ve supported our family ever since solely on the sales of my paintings.

“American Inn,” 6″ 6,” 2011

KS- What inspired you to get into Art? Who were the Artists you liked early on, and which influenced you early on?

RP- Shortly after arriving in the Lone Star State, I rediscovered the work of John Salt and felt an instant connection. I couldn’t drive past a trailer home (and there are many in Texas) without thinking “Salt.” At this point, I wanted to spend more time in the studio and less time searching out subjects to paint, so I started driving around the town we lived in and took photos of these tract houses that were everywhere. I found them visually interesting. As with all the streets and buildings that I paint, these homes, under certain weather and lighting conditions, became transformed. I painted my first tract house in 1989 and it sparked a series of paintings that were later shown at O.K. Harris in NY.

“Pink House with Big Wheels,” 36″ x 54,” 1992, the earliest work in his online Archive.

KS-Your last show at AMY was in 2013. Two of these pieces are dated 2016, the rest 2017. How do you feel your work has changed/evolved since your last show?

“Mr W, Lubbock, TX,” 12″ x 18,” 2013, which appeared in his 2013 AMY, NYC show

RP- Up until 2016, all my previous “micro” paintings were square in shape, but for this show, most of the canvases have a 2:3 size ratio.

I’ve also been exploring more towns in New Mexico.

KS- The work on the catalog’s cover, which is dated 2015 (and is not in this show) appears to be part of this series- a fascinating, alternate view of San Saba Butane. Are there others works in this series?

“San Saba Butane, San Saba, TX,” 12″ x 18,” 2015, which appears on the recent show’s exhibition catalog’s cover, but which was not in the show. The Painting that was in the show is below.

RP- The painting you’re referring to measures 12 x 18 inches and is based on the photos I took for the series in my show. I’m currently working on a 10 x 15 inch painting of San Saba which will be my final painting in this series. These two paintings will be included in my next exhibit.

KS- I’ve seen you’ve done two views of a same scene in the past, but is this the first “series” of paintings you’ve done (I know of 10 that are a part of it) of a relatively small area (which feels like it’s within a few blocks), with source material from the same time? Was this a conscious decision- to do a series? Or, is it just coincidental, and the works should be considered independently of each other. (I’m not sure I can do that!)

RP- This show is a first for me in the sense that it is a series of paintings based on photos taken on a single morning of a single town. Most of the locations are in and around the town square of San Saba, TX, and when viewed together they form a more comprehensive “portrait”, both of the town itself, and my personal experiences in this place. That being said, each painting is also meant to stand on its own.

KS- How is your work received locally? Especially in San Saba, if these have been seen there?

RP- I sent a news release for the exhibit, along with some jpegs of my paintings, to a local paper in San Saba but never heard back. Since I don’t show in my hometown of Marble Falls, and rarely in the state of Texas, my work is largely ignored and/or misunderstood. Texas residents have an understandable pride in their communities and my paintings don’t always portray these towns in a cheerful light. However, I’m not interested in painting a romanticized and sanitized version of small-town America. San Saba, along with every town I paint, has its own character, its own curiosities and quirks, its own grit, as well as its own beauty…

So many good memories have been made in this town, but it’s taken almost 16 years for everything to come together in order for me to paint it.

KS- I’m fascinated by “San Saba Butane.” Without giving away it’s mystery, is this a place you’re at all familiar with, or is your interest in it purely pictorial?

“San Saba Butane,” 6″ x 6,” 2017, as seen in this show.

RP- I first photographed San Saba Butane around 15 years ago and have witnessed its slow deterioration over the years. Who owned it and what it was used for doesn’t interest me.

KS- We’ve discussed people calling your work “photorealism,” yet there is a lot of abstraction in your work- the clouds, the cracks in the pavement, the tree branches, patterns of bricks, peeling paint, and on and on. Of course you know it’s there. What role do you feel abstraction plays in so-called realistic or representational Art? Do people ever notice it? I also saw you mentioned John Zurier, and that makes me wonder if he’s influenced your skies.?

RP- The formalist qualities in my paintings are important. The placement and shapes of clouds, pavement cracks, branches, etc, is always intentional. I’m good at arranging these components within a picture plane while photographing, but afterward, I edit, so that these elements ultimately serve my purpose which is to create a certain mood and a strong composition. Also, you’ll find smaller engaging areas of abstraction within the paintings which I enjoy incorporating. I think this comes from studying and appreciating a range of different styles of painting.

Regarding Zurier, I’m not consciously thinking of his work while painting my skies, but I’m sure he’s influenced certain elements of my art. He creates this terrific sense of light and weather with just pure pigment and the mood in his paintings elicit a certain quiet meditative self-reflection.

“Commerce St, Brenham TX,” 24″ x 36,” 2002. One of two Paintings I’ve seen of his with an actual person in it.

KS- You’ve been in Texas just about 30 years now, would you have been shocked if someone told you in 1988 you’d be here for (at least) 30 years? Does being originally from somewhere else (a city, no less) help you in painting these scenes you’ve been doing all these years?

RP- The Texas Hill Country is a wonderful place to raise a family. Moving here from Canada allowed me to observe my surroundings with the objectivity of an outsider. I don’t have any memories of these locations before the age of 22; however, they do evoke memories from my childhood, but it has little or nothing to do wth a specific building or street. On the flip-side, living here for almost 30 years has endeared me to Texas, and prevents me from patronizing my subject matter.

KS- In the introduction to the show’s catalog, Mr. Seed mentions your reacting against big (large) painting by others in these quite small works. What is it about big paintings that you don’t like?

RP- I don’t dislike large paintings per se, only pretentious, self-serving large paintings that tell me what to think and feel, and much of the current art world seems to embrace that kind of work.

“Bertram Supply Co, Bertram, TX,” 36″ x 54.” 2016. One of Mr. Penner’s larger works.

KS- Your taste in art is wonderfully eclectic, ranging from the Dutch & Flemish Masters to the Hudson River School to contemporary Artists including Andy Piedilato. Is there a common thread to the Art you like? When you look at painting, what do you look for? What makes someone an excellent or great painter in your book?

“Ice Spine,” 102″ x 126,” 2015, left and “Pinched Red Sail,” 100″ x 117,” 2016, right, by Andy Piedilato, seen at Danese Corey, NYC, in October, 2016

RP- Someone who has command of their medium and uses it to express mature ideas.

KS- What do you think of NYC? Has anything you’ve seen here ever grabbed you to paint it?

RP- NYC is our favorite place to visit but no, I have never felt an urge to paint it.

KS- Finally, if you were going to suggest to Art Lovers they look at one thing, one style, period or (I’m not a big fan of this word- “school”- unless the Artists themselves put themselves in that group), or the work of one Artist, that you feel has been overlooked, or is especially “important” today, what, or who, would it be?

RP- Perhaps the Tonalists; John Francis Murphy, Bruce Crane, and Birge Harrison are three of my favorites. Contemporary painter Catherine Murphy is in a class of her own. John Salt definitely deserves more attention and credit.

For anyone interested in knowing more about Rod Penner’s Art, as I write, the current resources are-
-Rod Penner has a website, which includes an Archive of his work that goes back to 1992, and includes links to his FB and Instagram pages.
-Ameringer McEnery Yohe has additional info, and details on the past shows they’ve held for Rod Penner here. They also published a catalog for this recent show, and copies of it may (keyword “may”) still be available through them. I’d hurry.
-John Seed’s two pieces may be found here, and here. He also wrote a piece for the AMY catalog.
(And, I have written about him twice, here and here.)

I’m grateful to Rod Penner for taking the time to answer my questions, for speaking with me at the very hectic opening of his show, and to his wife, Debbie, and their family, for allowing him to take some time away from them to do so. They’ve been married 31 years. I should have asked him what the secret to that is!

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Last Chance Texaco,” by Rikki Lee Jones, from the classic album of the same name, and published by Rikki Lee Jones. You can see her perform it here.

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
Click the white box on the upper right, for the archives, to search, or to subscribe.
This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

Rod Penner: Brilliance, Under Cloudy Skies

“Rod Penner” at Ameringer McEnery Yohe is my NoteWorthy Show for May.

“Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear”*

It turns out to have been more than worth the wait. The chance discovery of Rod Penner’s rarely seen work in April, 2016, left me eager to see more of it for the past year. Finally, that chance came. Yes, I wrote about this show’s opening, and my first impressions of it, a while back, when I was also lucky to meet Mr. Penner. Having returned to see the 9 remarkable Paintings that made up “Rod Penner” at Ameringer McEnery Yohe through May 26 (his first NYC show since 2013) a number of times after the April 27 opening, I realized I needed to also revisit it here because these are works that do not reveal all their secrets at first glance, and also because so little has been written about the work of Rod Penner, basically, three pieces by John Seed. Given the amazing & consistently high quality of his work, and the fact that he’s been a successful Painter for over 25 years, who’s shows routinely sell out (8 of these 9 were sold before the show opened), that’s hard to believe. This show is a great chance to get a closer look, as it represents most of the work he’s created in the past year, and because the works are related, they form a “series.” When I asked the Artist about this, he told me-

“This show is a first for me in the sense that it is a series of paintings based on photos taken on a single morning of a single town. Most of the locations are in and around the town square of San Saba, TX, and when viewed together they form a more comprehensive “portrait”, both of the town itself, and my personal experiences in this place. That being said, each painting is also meant to stand on its own.”

San Saba is about an hour north of Austin, almost smack dab in the middle of Texas. The resulting works are at once intricate and sublte, so deep, so brilliantly conceived and almost miraculously executed, I now have a feeling they will be revealing their “secrets” indefinitely.

“View of San Saba,”also 5 x 7 1/2 INCHES. The “center” of Rod Penner’s painted “neighborhood.”All works by Rod Penner, 2017, Acrylic on canvas, unless specified, seen at “Rod Penner,” at Ameringer McEnery Yohe. Click any image to see it full size and better see the detail.

When I met Mr. Penner, he spoke about the newest work in the show, “View of San Saba.” So new, it wasn’t completed in time to appear in the show’s catalog, the first book ever published on Rod Penner (and available from Ameringer McEnery Yohe, as I write this). It’s a work that a quick glance fails. I wondered about the empty spaces in the foreground, left and right. Why is there so much of it in a work that’s supposed to be a “view” of a town? It scrunches the actual town into a narrow band that accounts for maybe one third of the Painting. These empty spaces along the sides give us a sense of perspective, a sense of space that is, after all, a trade mark of Texas, I hear, which would be missing if Rod Penner had cropped the view closer to the “BUY PECANS HERE” sign, and which would also give the sign an importance he, apparently, didn’t want it to have. The feeling would be completely different. Also, doing this “sets a stage” for the rest of the composition, something Mr. Penner seems fond of doing.

And? It turns out the foreground is an extraordinarily interesting part of the work. Ok, that’s coming from a die hard Manhattanite, a true connoisseur of pavement, street, curbs, and sidewalks, someone who never sees grass. Mr. Penner told me that as the work neared completion, he became unhappy with the pavement to the front left, so he redid it. Take that, everyone who thinks he’s a so-called “photorealist,” or “hyper-realist,” someone who paints exactly and only what’s in a reference photo. First, there’s a very unusual (in real life) crack that runs directly down the very middle of the street, which serves to draw us further and further into the painting.

Detail of the pavement in the foreground, larger than actual size, reveals almost endless details, down to the reflection of the back of the Stop sign in the puddle. Interestingly, every Stop sign in these works is seen from the back. Even in reflection.

It’s an old street. The curbs are worn, where they are still there. The pavement has been patched. Well, some of it has. Water pools in holes that still need to be. Yet, for the most part, the concrete is holding together. After all these years. After all these cars, trucks, people, and whatever else travels on the roads of San Saba, Texas have passed over them. Yes. You can still get there from here.

Beyond the technical tour de force of skill on view in this, and in everything in this show, more importantly, every centimeter of it drips with character.

The skies always seem to be ominous. Sometimes a small patch of sun is fighting to make it’s way through. Maybe it will. Maybe rain is on the way. (I call theses skies “Penneresque” now when I see one). Just as long as it’s not a tornado, right? The old County Court is still standing. You can see it’s tower to the left, in the first Photo up top. Interestingly, it’s not quite as tall as the phone pole1

When I look at the finished work, the feeling of isolation, life lived, the present time, and time past (as in the patched pavement to the right in the front), and the feeling of being an outsider is reminiscent of that in works by Edward Hopper or Charles Sheeler, but not specific works. Though he has a foot in Art History, Rod Penner is an original.

But we aren’t in San Saba. We aren’t in Texas. We’re 1,744 miles away by car or 1,513 miles as the crow flies at Ameringer McEnery Yohe Gallery on West 22nd Street in Manhattan, NYC. An entirely different world, right? We’re not even looking at Photographs, which seems to be a reaction of some who only see these works online in, yes, Photographs, and have trouble believing someone can really paint THIS well. We’re looking at Paintings. VERY small Paintings that are either 5 by 7 1/2 inches, or 6 by 6 inches each! Acrylics on canvas. In creating these works at paperback book size, I don’t believe the purpose was to show off his extraordinary skill (which happens as a byproduct). The size brings an intimacy that makes the viewer look closely to see, and once you start looking, you’ll see more and more, which can turn the experience into something of a meditation.

“View of San Saba” is installed on one of 3 walls where the paintings look out, and on to each other. Therein lies an additional element that becomes apparent when seen together. As Mr. Penner said, each work stands alone. Yet being at this show one can’t help noticing that there’s, also, a “little world” in these 9 Paintings that comes together in “View of San Saba.” Taken as a whole, this gives a feeling of walking around a small neighborhood (typically New York comment, right?), and based on “View of San Saba,” it is walkable. No less than 5 of the buildings featured in the 8 other works here reappear in it, making it something of a centerpiece of this “series” for me.  I constructed these maps to show what I mean,

Installation View of “Rod Penner” @ Ameringer, McEnery & Yohe shows it’s a small neighborhood. The lines connect 5 individual works with “View of San Saba,” far right, where the same buildings are seen, again.

“Map” of “View of San Saba” showing the location of the 5 Buildings also shown in their own Paintings, which follows. The numbers are from the order they appear in the show, as seen in the prior Photo.

So, yes, as I said, “you can still get there from here,” if you walk straight down the street, following that center crack. Along the right, first, “Buy Pecans Here,” is the subject (and title) of a closer view of the same structure, below. Then, on it’s corner, and across the street on the right is G&R Grocery, which is seen in no less than two other works here- “G&R Grocery,” and “Armadillo Country.” And finally, a few blocks almost dead ahead (slightly left) is the building in “The Station.” Here are the five Paintings in question. There could be much to be said about each.

#1 in the “Map” above, “G & R Grocery,” 2016, 5 x 7 1/2 inches. That reminds me. G&R is also the home of Texas’ famous “Bill’s Season All,” as the sign says. I have to remember that when I need to reorder it.

NYC’s & Texas’ finest in the NighthawkNYC kitchen.

#2- “Buy Pecans Here,” 5 x 7 1/2 inches

#3 “The Station,” 6 x 6 inches. It’s foreground pavement endlessly enthralls me.

#5 “Armadillo Country” 5 x 7 1/2 inches

#4 does get a section to itself. My personal favorite among all of these works (not an easy call) is one I find endlessly fascinating, on a number of levels- “San Saba Butane.” All 6 by 6 inches of it. The right rear side of it is, also, #4 in the Map, above.

#4- “San Saba Butane,” 6 x 6 inches. Depending on the device you’re using, this photo may be close to the actual size of the Painting.

On one level, you could look at it and think about hard times, about a business that stood for a long time, carrying the hopes and dreams of it’s owner, until it finally moved elsewhere, or went under. There’s no indication of which here. What there is, it seems to me, is a masterpiece of realism in which abstract and realistic elements are weaved together so seamlessly, they achieve an almost perfect balance, each supporting the other. After all, when we see the world, our eyes see things that are abstract as well as “real” (be they reflections in windows or water, and on and on- they are everywhere once you look for them). It’a all based on a rectangular box seen at an angle that provides the basis of everything else that Mr Penner hangs on it or adds to it, and around it. One time I looked at this and thought “It’s a Robert Rauschenberg meets Anselm Kiefer structure under a “Penneresque” sky, as I named them last time, maybe with a hint of John Zurier in it, and with Lucian Freud pavement. Another time, I fancied that the historic “Battle of San Saba Butane” had been fought here, leaving Texas another monument, akin to the Alamo. But, alas, history records no such battle (as far as I know). There is, instead, a completely peaceful stillness to the building, though it’s surrounded by turbulent skies and pavement that appears almost liquified in places. To get to it’s door, you have to cross the rough, wet road in the foreground before arriving on the slightly surer footing of the (wet) pavement, and then to the “safety” of the awning, only to find the building it’s attached to is just an empty shell, and not a real “destination.” This “having to cross questionable or unstable ground in the foreground to get to the heart of the work” is present in many of Rod Penner’s works. It takes the eye on a journey, and makes it work to get to the core of the composition.

This section is about 3 inches tall by 6 inches wide in the Painting, shown here larger than actual size (once you click on it). Even the wear and tear on the sign’s lettering is brilliantly rendered.

Whatever struggle took place here, even the struggle of day to day business survival is over, and all is quiet in the building. In all it’s brilliantly rendered dilapidated glory, it’s still standing. Though it says “San Saba” on it, if you took the lettering off (but please don’t) this is another scene that can be seen in any state in the USA. It’s a part of the lifecycle of a business- the part where one has ended and a new one may begin. In that sense, it could also stand for life & death. It’s a tombstone for the business that was once here, and all the memories and history that went with it. It’s also a space where something new can begin. It’s real and surreal, intimate and repelling, liquid, solid and air, a place that it wouldn’t seem could possibly exist, somehow, except for that sign- “San Saba Butane” anchors the scene to earthen reality. I wondered about that sign at first, in my first Post, then thought- “No. It’s probably a real name. No one could make that up, right?”

One look at “San Saba Butane” in comparison to how it appears on the extreme left of “View of San Saba” and you realize that there’s no building behind it now! The Artist, himself, pointed this out to me. The whole right side of “San Saba Butane” shows a different view than what’s behind it in “View of San Saba.”

Detail of the right side of “San Saba Butane”

Detail of the left side of “View of San Saba”

Mr. Penner said, “In San Saba Butane, I removed the building you see in View of San Saba. The area right of the station needed to be opened up some… too claustrophobic… in order to allow the eye more room to wander. The stop sign and hydrant are the same ones you see in “View of San Saba.” That sound you heard was a hammer putting the final nail in the coffin of “photorealism” in regards to the work of Rod Penner.

Well? If this is a real place? I don’t care one bit what it “really” looks like. I don’t want to know. Well, I do know this- As much as I dislike qualitatively comparing creative work. I can’t put it any other way- I can’t think of a better Painting I’ve seen in the past year than “San Saba Butane.”

The next one is right up there, too.

“Commie’s Tacos,” 5 x 7 1/2 inches.

“Why did we stop here?,” I can hear someone in the backseat saying.

After all, we’re stopped in the middle of the road. “The light’s red up ahead,” might be one reply. “Not much to see here,” might be the new complaint. Hmmm…..The longer I look at this, the more I disagree.

First, there’s the skill involved in depicting this in all of 5 by 7 1/2 inches of canvas.

The same Painting, “Commie’s Taco’s,” seen from only 6 feet away.

When I looked closely at this one, I marveled at the detail on the two buildings to the left of center. The more I looked at this, the more I see. Every last clapboard is perfectly rendered, but all of it has character. Check out the bands on the back of the Stop sign, and on and on…

Detail of about 2 and 1/2 inches of the left side seen with a zoom lens.

To the right is a tan building, with a Spanish Tile roof, which would be fitting for a business with the name of Commie’s Tacos, the work’s name-sake, which is painted at an angle, and cut off making me wonder if Commie would ever want to buy this work and display it in his/her’s fine establishment, since it’s not even showing the whole restaurant. In fact, we wouldn’t know what the name of it was if it wasn’t the work’s title!

Commie’s, itself, in about 2 inches, with incredibly detailed concrete.

Then, I stared straight ahead, down that beckoning road you see in the first photo, which is what the composition seems to want. The looming street seems a bit more uneven, a bit rougher, than the fairly level ground we’re on now, judging from the masterfully rendered pavement.

Detail of about 4 inches of the foreground. Mr. Penner frequently puts pavement right in the front of his work, which is both daring and serves to set the stage. It’s a stage so well executed it looks real, and used. Notice the wide variety of surfaces.

We’ll pass trash cans, Yield signs and the ever present telephone poles. Further on, past the white house, it’s hard to say what we’ll encounter, well, before that vehicle with it’s headlights on. If we were standing on either of those corners, maybe we’d think that vehicle was coming for us. But, in the middle of the intersection? All bets are off. It’s hard to tell if Commie’s is even open for business. As in every work here, no one else is around.

As a result? There are none of the distractions people in a painting bring. None of the drama. Uh oh. Speaking of drama…

On the Fence, #6- Crow-No-Lisa”

Same with Commie’s. It’s painted at an angle and chopped off which serves to reduce it’s power and importance. The import, seems to me, to be in the feeling of place- of being here, now. Imagine for a moment what it must feel like to be a new resident to this street, seeing it for the first time, (as most viewers of this work are), and seeing the place you’ll now call home? What would living here be like? The residents are already connected to each other by wires, but you’re not. Would you be welcome? There’s rain on the ground, as there is in a number of these works, but the skies seem to be clearing. Keywords- seem to be. It looks to be a very typical street in a small town in Texas, in or near San Saba, but it could be almost anywhere. This scene could be in just about any one of the 49 states not named Hawaii.

Robert Frost talked about taking the road less traveled, “and that made all the difference.” What would he make of this road? Would he take it? Situated here, as we are, the answer isn’t clear, but if we are going down that side street, we’re in the wrong lane of traffic. Unless, we’re across the street at the other corner, waiting at a Stop sign there. Or, maybe it’s a scene seen in passing, or while stuck at a light to the left or right. One of those things we see for a minute, just long enough to wonder what’s down there? What it’s like down that street?

Seen from a normal distance, “Commie’s Tacos,” in it’s double frame.

Or? You could consider it a mediation on what once was on the corner, perhaps a house you grew up, that’s now gone. The level of detail enhances the “realism” of the work, and so, enhances the viewer’s ability to “experience” whatever he or she thinks and feels when they see it. Beyond the date the painting was done, we don’t know when this scene takes place (as we don’t in any of the works on view). It could be today, last year or 30 years ago. As such, it, and all the works here, are “portraits” of a place that’s beyond time and place. A place frozen in time that portrays an equally frozen moment that, the closer you look at it, you see “more” in. It raises more and more questions, or maybe even reminds you of a place and time, and brings back it’s feelings. Seeing this on the wall at Ameringer, in it’s interesting double frame, it’s a portal into a distant place that somehow doesn’t feel all that far away. A place somehow “known.”

Ameringer McEnery Yohe, 525 West 22nd Street, NYC, seen during the run of the show, appropriately, from the middle of the street, with wet pavement, under “Penner-esque” skies, that I hear came all the way from Texas.

I don’t know how the 2,783 residents of San Saba (in 2014) feel about these paintings, if they’ve seen them. More than likely, they prefer Mr. Penner paint other locations in their fine community. As someone who’s never been to Texas, when I look at them, as I’ve said, except for a sign here or there, I see places that could exist elsewhere. So, while they’re based on actual places in and around San Saba, as Mr. Penner said, they strike me as much as depicting America- places and things that could be seen anywhere in the country. I’m sure San Saba is a very different place than NYC is in a lot of ways. When I look at these Paintings? Not entirely different.

(My subsequent Q&A with Rod Penner is hereMy experience at this show’s opening and my initial impressions of it are here.)

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “Here Comes The Sun,” by George Harrison from “Abbey Road” by The Beatles.

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  1.  Old Mother Pecan, one of the most unique trees in the world (I love trees), is still standing, too (thought not seen), not all that far away, 200 years later! Important for a place that calls itself the “Pecan capital of the world.”

Raymond Pettibon’s Burning Bush

“Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work,” at The New Museum featured a multi-faceted lobby Mural by the Artist that touched on long time themes, and added a few messages. Click any photo to enlarge.

High above, to the left of center, the Artist painted these words…

“I have been rewriting ‘that modern novel’
I spoke of to you…On th’ whole it is a failure, I think,
tho nobody will know this, perhaps, but myself…iyt is a simple story, simply told. And yet iyt hath no name.”

This show fills THREE FLOORS of a quite prestigious Manhattan Museum. Please define “failure,” Raymond. Unless, you’re pulling our leyg…again?

“Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work,” a Retrospective that also marked his first major NYC Museum show, closed at the New Museum on April 16. I was there almost to last call, drynking in as much as I could, though I was past being intoxxxicated on the 800 Drawings, fliers, album covers, ’zines, Artist’s Books and his films the Museum displayed over those 3 full floors1, plus the fascinating, multifaceted mural he did in the lobby, seen above, and below.

“Beyond it lays everything tht mattered.” That tells you right off how the Artist feels about this, the logo he designed for the legendary band HE named Black Flag, that featured his brother, Greg (who also founded SST Records, who sell Pettibon’s work to this day, without ever mentioning his name). The period it represents really is such a small part of his, now, 40 years of work. It’s (also) the #1 tattoo in the land, here painted on the Museum’s elevator doors. Still on the outs with his brother, he says he rarely draws it any more, so this time, he added very small text above each bar, which reads-“Doors nor windows.””Beyond it lays everything tht mattered.””He isn’t under there, he’s in the woods.” and “The last sentence is somewhat obscured to me.” from left bar to right.

Homage to classic NYC Baseball. Another part of the mural (all since painted over) showed Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson, waving a huge bat, and the Yankee star, Whitey Ford, right, in individual Drawings, not in action against each other.

It might be a while before you see this in a Museum, again. That elevator goes to THREE floors filled with Pettibon. Some “failure.”

Installation View of the 4th floor of “Raymond Pettibon: A Pen Of All Work,” at the New Museum, seen on it’s closing day, April 16. In the center is a room with work the Artist created for this show inside.

Barely, had I had time for this buzzz to peak when lo and behold…Here comes A-NOTHER Raymond Pettibon show, “TH’ EXPLOSIYV SHORT T,” at David Zwirner, 19th Street, with NINETY-NINE more, recent works, only a couple of which were in “A Pen…”(they were part of the lobby mural, tacked to the wall)! And? These 99 works were being shown in the very space where Raymond Pettibon had created them. Whoa! So, unless I completely overdose on Pettibon first, you might, as I’ve opted to do three pieces- because I think his work is that important and timely- one on each show, and a third piece that looks at the place Raymond Pettibon’s Art is now. Since the David Zwirner show, where I met Raymond Petitibon on April 29, still has some time to run before it closes on June 24, I’ll start with “A Pen of All Work,” my “NoteWorthy” show for April, before the trail grows cold on it, though for you lucky folks near Maastricht (correctly spelled), the Netherlands, it just reopened at Maastricht’s Bonnefantenmuseum, on June 2, with 700 works, where it will run through October 29. 2

“Try everything, Do everything, Render everything,” Ink on paper, date unknown. And? He proceeds to do just that…

Mr. Pettibon is somewhat unique in the Art world because of the way he got here, achieving legendary status through his work for bands before he got a Gallery to represent him. So? The Art world is not as familiar with the early work, while his early fans may not be as familiar with what he’s done lately (though, of course, he has many fans who have been with him the whole way, too). I’ll try to show a mix of work here, while trying to give a sense of what this remarkable show was like.

I have to think back to the Picasso Retrospective which filled ALL of the old MoMA in 1980 to recall a show of comparable size. Still, if there was a common theme to be found it was that “his entire body of work is very much a confrontation against ideologies,” to quote Massimiliano Gioni, the New Museum’s Artistic Director, on the excellent audio guide. Whatever you’ve got? Pettibon will confront it, and given how much confronting he’s done, everyone involved did a superb job of installing it, organizing all of these works by themes.

Timeless. Unfortunately. “No Title (Fight for freedom!),” 1981(!), Pen and ink on paper

The 2nd floor mostly focused on Pettibon, himself, looking at his early work with an eye on how he created his own “alternate media” in the form fliers, zines, record covers, Artist’s books, films & videos, et al, and how he goes about his craft, including samples from the archive he uses as source material, and to draw inspiration from on a daily basis.

A bit of Pettibon’s never before seen archive of source material includes Iwo Jima, Giuliani, and 9/11.

Also on 2, along with a good part of his past, part of Pettibon’s current legacy was on view in full effect, as seen below. He forged his own way of getting his work seen, first on fliers, then on record covers, zines, Artist’s Books, and then added film and video, all before finding acceptance in the Art world, something he says was delayed by 10 years due to his association with punk. A visit to stores like New York’s Printed Matter feels like visiting the work of many of the “children” of Raymond Pettibon, as his example has been, and is being, followed by countless Artists, Photographers, Musicians and Writers right now. Including thiys one. Though, perhaps not the first Artist to work in any of those media, his methods, and his path, remain most influential.

I had to cross the Framers Union picket line to see this show, who were on strike because Pettibon prefers to tack his work to the walls with straight pins. With 800 works in this show? That’s a LOT of lost work for framers. Ok…I’m kidding. I’m pulling your leyg now. Looking at this photo, you can see how very far Pettibon’s work has come. In the glass case are GORGEOUS copies of his (now rare) early gig fliers that were posted with no thought of posterity in the late 1970s. Behind them, on the wall are 2 tacked up drawings, and one painting(!), left, next to 13 framed drawings of no less than the Manson family. Out of the 20,000 Drawings Pettibon has done, only a small percent have been framed. With the prices being paid for his work? I’d bet that just about every piece that is tacked to the wall here is being seen that way for the last time. Framers? Get ready.

Also on the 2nd floor is the American premier of the virtually complete original art for his first book, “Captive Chains,” 1978, an homage to comic books/Texas Chainsaw Massacre/ Betty Page that is laced with S&M imagery as well as first rate drawings, different in style than what most of his fans may be familiar with. Pettibon has been quick to downplay/under-play/denigrayte his self-taught Drawing skills- including these! “Captive Chains” begs to differ. Sorry! No faylure here. These are both terrific, and now classic. Perhaps most interesting, a number of it’s pages are full page drawings with no text, something almost never seen in Pettibon’s work since. In fact, it seems to me his career has followed the trajectory of his work being more about image primacy early on to now when text and language have come more and more to the forefront. One indication of this is that many drawings lie unfinished in his studio at any given time while they await the inspiration of texts to complete them. Sometimes for years.

The complete original art for “Captive Chains,” 1978. 68, ink on paper Drawings seen in the USA for the first time, and yes, they’re tacked to the wall.

One page. Ugh…I’m sorry. Putting a tack in this is like putting one in my hand.

Pettibon is fond of recycling old characters from the comics and television, including Batman, Superman, Gumby and the obscure side-kick character, Vavoom. While Batman and Superman are famous, Gumby, a long time personal favorite, is in eclipse. A claymation character created by Art Clokey3, he was able to walk into books and live in them, as well as visit other times in history. Vavoom was a side kick on the Felix the Cat cartoon show, a character, who’s only vocalization was, literally, an earth shattering shout out of his own name. Both Gumby and Vavoom are alter egos of Pettibon, and stand-ins for the Artist. Very interesting choices, to say the least.

The old cartoon side-kick, Vavoom (seen here in “No Title (A beautiful, actual…),” 1987 ink on paper, only able to say his own name is an interesting alter ego for an Artist who is so intensely literate.

…so is Gumby. “No Title (I borrow My…),” 1990, Acrylic on board.

In a long, rear gallery on the 2nd floor, was an amazing selection of Pettibon’s superb Baseball Drawings.  Along with surfing, the Artist’s passion for Baseball is lifelong. As with his other work, unless you’re a Baseball Stat expert, like he may well be, it takes some digging to begin to understand why Pettibon is choosing to depict a certain player at a certain point in his career. (More on this in my Post on the Zwirner show.) While his early punk work continues to gets so much attention, other areas of his work live in neglect. If there’a another Baseball Artist in Pettibon’s league? I don’t know of him/her.

Against the world. “No Title (1.12 Bob Gibson),” 2015, Pen, ink, pencil, acrylic on paper. “1.12” was Bob Gibson’s E.R.A. in 1968, when he won 22 games and lost 9. His St. Louis Cardinals lost in Game 7 of that year’s World Series. Could anything better capture his intimidating presence than this?

The 3rd floor sees Pettibon looking at the various “tribes,” and subcultures in recent American history- surfers, hippies, punks, the Manson family, and musicians.

Even The Beatles “get Pettibon-ed,” to coin a phrase, about who is the “largest” member. “No Title (Few know this…),” 2015, Ink on paper. Pettibon continually revisits history (usually, American), often years later, as here. In the 2000’s, he began addressing events closer to “real time,” like the War in Iraq. One thing I haven’t figured out yet? His work’s “penis obsession.”

His Surfer and Wave works strike me as living at the center of his work, the heart of it. Beyond punk, Manson, religion, politics, war- all the rest of it. Here’s a world Pettibon knows intimately having grown up near the water in Malibu, where he indeed surfed, though, as he told Dennis Cooper in “Raymond Pettibon,” (Phaidon), “I don’t surf much any more, but I grew up with it. I was never a card-carrying surfer.” Usually, he depicts a solitary man in the middle of a gigantic wave, testing himself against nature, symbolically against the world, against the nature of things, against chance, and against himself. As his 2005 work, ”Man stands as in the center of Nature, his fraction of time encircled by eternity…”, which wasn’t in this show, sums up perfectly. At moments like those, the “truths” that present themselves (or rather, that Pettibon presents) are often zen-like koans- they’re ineffable. They can’t be distilled further. All but the tiny place where board meets water is out of his control. How long will the ride last? Will he survive? Be maimed? What goes through the mind while it does, and at times like those? It’s not just a man’s game, either. He shows us girls and women surfing, sometimes topless.

Monumental. “No Title (As to me…),” 2015, Pen ink, watercolor, acrylic on paper 55″ x 113″. Another of his large Surfer Drawings sold for 1.5 million dollars in 2013, “failing” to reach four times the high estimate.

“No Title (Don’t complicate…),” 1987, Ink and gouache on paper, 24″ x 18″, MoMA. If I could choose one work of his? This might be it…at the moment. You styll have 300 other Pettibons, MoMA.

The 4th floor sees Pettibon’s extensive, long-running, devastating and ever-timely political and war works, along with works relating to the power of media. Brace yourself- Pettibon doesn’t play favorites. Democrats and republicans come in for just about equal poundings- from JFK through Obama. It culminates, and the show concludes, with an inner gallery of work Pettibon created for “A Pen of All Work.”

Twas ever thus. “No Title (You’re supposed to read the green first, Congressman Ford),” 1976, Red, blue pencil on paper.  An early work about Gerald Ford by “R. Ginn.” The name “Pettibon” comes from his dad.

The layout of the 4th floor is interesting in the choice of having the most timely, most controversial and most “explosive” work including pieces regarding Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Donald Trump (one from the 1980’s, and one from the 2016 campaign) and atomic explosions….

“No Title (“End the war…),” 2007, Pen, ink, gouache on paper, 30″ x 22,” left, seen with “No Title ( The war, now…),” 2008, Pen, ink, gouache,  acrylic on paper. Don’t worry. There was a whole wall about JFK, and yes, Obama got “Pettibon-ed,” as well.

A wall of work on religion, another ongoing theme.

surrounding an inner space, where the feeling is, surprisingly, both personal and intimate, it felt to me. Inside, the Artist pays homage to his mom, talks about his craft, and, apparently, nature, life, some of his wishes at this stage of his life (he turns 60 on June 16), all in works created for this room, and some on it’s walls.

The show includes some treasures. His mother, 95 as of last December, saved some of his childhood drawings from the 1960’s and 19 of them were on view that Pettibon has now added texts to! Pettibon pays homage to his Mom in a wonderful, Artful, way in this final gallery, which brings the show full circle.

Inside the final room on 4, containing works Pettibon did especially for iyt includes this version of Whistler’s “Composition in Black and Grey, the Artist’s Mother,” an homage to his own Mother, now 95, who he has says has always been his biggest fan, at times his only fan. The feeling this room gave felt like walking around in his head at the moment. He added the writing above it because, he thought, Whistler’s Mother looks like Mary Baker Eddy.

So…Moms? Hold on to your kids drawings!

A view of another part of the final room.

 

“No Title (Pinned to the Earth),” 2017, Ink on paper. In the final room, birds are featured since their feathers are used for quills- drawing instruments. Uh-oh. Someone else wants to chime in on this one…

“On The Fence, #5, Picking-A-Petite-Bone”

Painted on the wall of the final room.

PHEW. Some “failure!” It sounds HUGE, and it was, but it was a mere pittance (4%!) of the over 20,000 Drawings Mr. Gioni says Pettibon has created to date. And counting. He’s already added at least the 99 drawings in the David Zwirner show to the total. And? The one he did for me there.

“No Title (When I see…),” 2006. Pen, ink, collage on paper. Pettibon has been doing collages since around this time, and says one may include up to 70 drawings. As if his work wasn’t cryptic enough!

Beyond that, in a show that contains work that goes back to the 1970’s, it’s fascinating that nothing here feels “dated,” and virtually all of it holds up. Over 800 of any works is a pretty good indication of quality, even out of a body of 20,000. I’m still looking for a “bad” Pettibon.

“No Title …(Do you really believe…),” 2006, Pen and ink on paper.

After spending some weeks with these works, and Pettibon’s work in general, I find Mr. Gioni sums up the mystery of “understanding” Pettibon’s work the best I’ve found so far when he says on the audio guide, speaking of his political works, but I think it’s valuable to keep in mind, regardless of subject- “Pettibon plays with a variety of voices, in this case a cacophony of voices. The texts that are inscribed in the works of Pettibon are rarely a direct confessional expression of the Artist’s opinion, and they are instead a collection of what could be defined as the collective unconscious…” Proof of this is that we learn very little about the Artist, himself, from his work. Unless he comes out and tells us, directly, in interviews, and even then? Watch out for his “tall tales!” The point of the work is not personal (about the Artist, himself). It’s more about self, than “himself.”

“My Heart Tells Me (Self Portrait),” 1990, Ink on paper.

Personally? I felt like I was seeing the work of 800 Mensa members.  If you want to know why he is a major, and in my opinion, crucially important, Artist of our time, the “Pen,” and a pretty nice one, called the New Museum held your your answer. A wall card says the show’s title comes from a poem by Lord Byron. Ok. Another way to look at it is that the New Museums truly was A “Pen” (as in an enclosure) of All (well, A LOT) of his Work “that matters,” as he painted in the lobby.

“No Title …(Good prose is…),” 2013, has been turned into a styling Tote Bag by MZ Wallace, proceeds go, appropriately, to the New York Public Library.

I must also say that I feel that this show was a huge coup for the New Museum. As far as I’m concerned, this is the show that takes the New Museum to the next level. “Big 4” Museums? That sound you hear is someone breathing down your necks in contemporary Art. As for Mr. Pettibon, himself? I wonder. This show could have been held at MoMA (who, according to their site own over 300 of his works, on say, the whole 6th floor) or  it could have filled The Met Breuer (The Met lists 3 of his works online). Either would have, most likely, given him quite a bit more exposure, which might be critical given the timely nature of his work. I would love to know if either was ever an option, and why they passed if they were. Raymond Pettibon’s time is (still) now. Maybe MORE now than ever. Still, all of that having been said, I’m glad that it happened at all! I mean no disrespect to the New Museum. On the contrary, I heartily applaud them on doing such a superb job, on all accounts. Bravo! While I won’t compare qualitatively, “A Pen of All Work” will be one very hard show to top in NYC in 2017. Meanwhile, his Art continues to find favor elsewhere around the world. If you are anywhere near Maastricht, the Netherlands before October 29, don’t miss iyt! Raymond Pettibon also has a show about to open at the excellent Garage in Moscow, Russia. But? Sadly, this one is over.

“And the only sound that’s left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row.”*

When I left “A Pen of All Work” as the show closed that last time, I walked out on to the Bowery, the erstwhile “Skid Row,” or “Desolation Row,”(hence, this Post’s Soundtrack), where C.B.G.B. used to stand a few hundred feet away, back in the day before gentrifucation. Yes, punk is long gone, but Raymond Pettibon’s “failed modern novel” gets more and more attention than ever, now worldwide. Pondering all of this, I felt that Pettibon seemed to be akin to a modern day biblical, or zen, prophet- complete with his own burning bush, wandering in the desert, speaking in tongues.

800 works in, I’m listening harder than ever.

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “Desolation Row” by Bob Dylan, from the classic “Highway 61 Revisited,” and published by Bob Dylan Music Co.

Special thanks to kitty, who’s research assistance made thiys Post possible.

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  1. 800 pieces, per the show’s audio guide, which you can still access, as I write this, here.
  2. Update- July 20- You can read my Post on “TH’ EXPLOSIYV SHORT T” here.
  3. (who passed in 2010. I wonder what he thought of these…