Raymond Pettibon’s drawings are as rich in detail as they are in cultural references and, though not always immediately decipherable, social commentary. He often uses literary quotations in his works that don’t immediately relate to the imagery, lending his drawings an ambiguity that is at once challenging and intellectually provocative. Similarly elusive in person, Pettibon does not appreciate being pigeonholed with labels like “punk rocker” or “anarchist”, though he does little to shake these epithets: for this interview during Berlin’s Gallery Weekend, Pettibon showed up an hour late, after an assistant had been sent to pick him up from his hotel room. On arrival, Pettibon had alcohol on his breath. It was noon. But whatever you do, don’t dare call his work “political satire”, at least not when he’s listening. “It’s not about satire,” he told sleek, “I don’t mind that word, but it’s more real life. I don’t know why journalists need these categories. Who the fuck cares? But what am I going to do, argue with them? It’s tiresome, a fucking waste of time.”
sleek: So a work showing Michelle and Barack Obama and George W. Bush snorting cocaine is not meant as political satire? [Part of the text in this drawing reads: I thought you people smok’d it!]
Raymond Pettibon: I’m not down with Obama, he’s a very severe disappointment. He’s worse than Bush, which is a pretty radical thing to be. America exports violence. Obama affects lives and people die. I could say ‘Who cares’, right? But I regret that kind of thing. I’m for saving lives, not for killing, and killing is what Obama does. He’s a weak, punk-ass motherfucker who doesn’t have to do that, but he does. He does it to get reelected. In America, foreign policy is domestic policy. I wish my work wasn’t about that. I’d rather not have to deal with politics.
sleek: But you do. Do you think that this is the role of the artist in society?
RP: Artists can kiss my ass. They do it for their own careers. I don’t give a fuck about clowning and careering. Fuck ‘em.
sleek: We are sitting in one of Berlin’s largest galleries right now.
RP: Berlin is an amazing city in a lot of ways, I mean the Wall coming down? But don’t give Reagan any credit for that. And don’t give JFK any credit for anything, either, the Berlin airlift and all that. ‘We are all Berliners?’ Fuck that motherfucker, the guy was a dick. My idols are Lee Harvey Oswald and Sirhan Bishara Sirhan. Music-wise, I love German opera.
sleek: Does music influence your work? Do you listen to music when you draw?
RP: Music doesn’t bother or distract me. I’m not easily distracted because I’ve lived in places where the traffic is incessant and loud, and coming from a large family… you get used to it. But no, I don’t necessarily listen when I work. I come from post- punk music, but actually more from rap ‘cause I’m from L.A. and that’s what it’s like there, living with gang violence.
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