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The Man Behind The Most Popular Tattoo Of All Time

April 2016Words by Mr Stuart Husband

Mr Raymond Pettibon’s “No Title (Pausing only for…)”, 2003 (left), and “No Title (As if I…)”, 2003 (right). Pen and ink on paper. Courtesy of David Zwirner Books, New York

“I don’t make art with grandiose delusions,” says Mr Raymond Pettibon. In fact, at first glance, his work doesn’t look much like art at all; if it resembles anything, it’s a series of frames from some giant, ongoing, psyched-up comic book. His blot-heavy pen-and-ink drawings are accompanied by scrawled texts (“The insane are just hipper than the rest of us,” reads the legend above a wild-haired, strait-jacketed figure), with which he takes a mordant look at American culture through a bunch of recurring themes and figures: baseball, religion, surfers, hippies, twisted speed freaks, and, admittedly, quite a few penises.

Mr Pettibon’s “No Title (My road homewards…)”, 1995 (left) and “No Title ( ‘Outside!’ A Second…)”, 1997. Pen and ink on paper. Courtesy of David Zwirner Books, New York

One of the latter adorns the cover of Mr Pettibon’s most comprehensive monograph to date, Homo Americanus, which accompanies a show at Hamburg’s Deichtorhallen. It belongs to a mohican’d youth wearing a T-shirt bearing the four-bar logo designed by Mr Pettibon for Black Flag, the legendary punk band founded by his brother (it’s apparently the most tattooed motif of all time, according to The Guardian). It’s a reminder that Mr Pettibon got his start in the Southern California punk culture of the late 1970s and 1980s, designing concert flyers, fanzines, and album covers (for Sonic Youth, among others), but that his own work, far from nihilistic, can be tender as well as scabrously funny: “I don’t want to express violence or anger or hate in my art,” he says. “I want to express forgiveness.”