Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon are both renown for the distinguished graphic quality of their works. As a teenager, growing up in rural Canada, Dzama would spend most of his time sketching. Years later, his drawings acquired the clarity and the quietness of children’s books illustrations, until a closer looks reveal a disturbing world populated by grotesque characters. Its inhabitants, usually animals and human figures in costume, are drawn in pen and ink in an immediately recognizable style. Goya’s etchings and the aesthetics of Dada theatre are amongst his influences.
Pettibon, who is some 20 years Dzama’s senior, comes from the very different background. His is informed by Californian punk-rock culture of the 1980s, and the ephemera generated by it, with its posters, cards, flyers, album covers and comics. Pettibon’s practice mixes up low and high culture, borrowing imagery from TV, films and the news, to re-issue it through the cartoon-style figures that have become his signature.
While the beginning of Dzama’s career in the art world is rooted in collaborative practice – to the point that he wouldn’t even sign his earlier works – Pettibon is less used to work with other artists. Last year, however, the two met to discuss collaborative projects. Not too dissimilarly from the Surrealistic practice of collectively completing drawings known as exquisite corpse, the artists started to exchange and re-work g each other’s drawings, later arranged in a limited edition zine presented at the New York Book Fair (every copy sold out within a day).
“Let us compare mythologies”, recently opened at David Zwirner’s gallery in London, includes some of those original drawings, featuring new works made following the same collaborative spirit. In these, Dzama’s measured ink characters and Pettibon’s comic-style combine seamlessly, retaining the clarity of the first and the immediacy of the latter. New and less recent works integrate with drawings directly executed on the walls, with rare wit.
The most impressive exquisite corpse in the exhibition is the monumental work on paper “It is big big business (or We s’port…and necessitate one another, thought to brush, word to image hand in hand…for the greatest interest…of writing thou art)”. The mural’s programmatic title speaks for Pettibon’s talent with words – his tweets are as good as poetry, while the figurative programme is dense and requires some time to unfold. “It is big big business…” features some of Dzama’s characters, surrounded by Pettibon’s menacing waves and flames, in a contemporary allegory representing global warming’s disastrous effects.
Stepping in “Let us compare mythologies” is like penetrating Dzama and Pettibon’s crowded visual worlds. It is somewhat relieving that not everything makes sense.
Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon, “Let us compare mythologies” continues at David Zwirner Gallery, London, until 12 November 2016