For Allday’s exclusive supplement for Riot of Perfume 7, Eugenie & Tanya offer an excerpt from their Raymond Pettibon interview. Pettibon talks about his legacy (positive or not) in punk rock, and his experiences with the college art scene.
How did you get the opportunity to get Robert Storr to interview Raymond Pettibon?
Eugenie: Rob is a good friend and mentor of mine. We’d been talking about collaborating on a project together for a while, and in the process Raymond’s name came up. I’d recently written a short piece about “Tripping Corpse,” one of Raymond’s zine series from the early 1980s, and when I told Rob about it, its just clicked. In addition to his encyclopedic knowledge of art and theory, Rob is a voracious reader of poetry and literature, so I think Raymond’s work, which of course includes a lot of text, really speaks to him.
Tanya: We’ve also always been very supportive and interested in cross-disciplinary work, so this was very exciting for us. I curate Riot’s poetry content, and the text in Raymond’s work is incredibly poetic. I was quiet taken with how lyrical Raymond’s diction and thought process is throughout the interview—in a way it mirrors the text in his artwork.
Robert Storr: You were talking about books and your father.
Raymond Pettibon: People think that we had some sort of mentorship. And that’s absolutely not the case. I mean, he did have books and I did read them, but I came to them on my own. In college you’re assigned books to read and it’s part of the curriculum and, yeah I did that, I went through the motions, but for every reading or thought of the subject at hand, I was doing way more on my own. “College educated” means nothing to me. It can, if you’re there to learn, but hell, I taught college art; I’ve done studio visits and all that stuff, and it’s one big party usually. I wouldn’t make a good CEO or manager of people. That’s why I’ve rarely had assistants because with each day they do less and less and less, then you’ve got to get on them. When I taught, the few people who would want to learn, I’d take them aside and I’d teach them college algebra—this is like junior high and high school. But the rest, what are you gonna do? The first day of school they lose their book. I’ve never depended on mentorship, either within the family or with teachers. The teachers I had were just going through the motions—that doesn’t include me. But college is different because some teachers were present. During those years I learned a lot more on my own. You can take any book from the library, or my collection—there are recommendations or mentions of other writers on the backs, right? So it’s like the Internet now, but I’m talking about pre-Internet. It was this chain of authors, Calvino or Borges or whoever—you learn from recommendations. I mean, I did get my college degree, which was in economics—people laugh out loud whenever I say that. Meanwhile, everything that’s written on the subject of art is bad economics, rather than anything about art or aesthetics or whatever. It’s about the marketplace. Anyway, so that was my education. It wasn’t institutionalized, like “go to the best school and be a passive receptor.”
Did you have anybody who you could talk to, or did talk to, about ideas, about books, about pictures, about any of this stuff? If you didn’t have mentors, did you have interlocutors?
No. Today in the art world, when you’re at a dinner or something, if anything, what you talk about is perhaps gossip. I don’t get involved in that, so maybe that’s not good to say. You’d talk about the latest Hulk film and how it did at the box office; you talk about everything except for art. There’s no community, it’s not like how New York was with Max’s Kansas City. [Donald] Judd would have his table and be holding court, or at the Cedar Bar, and you’d be talking about art. It’s not like the offices of the Partisan Review where, however bad the discussion was, at least there was one. Recently there was a kid here at the studio with Lucas [Zwirner], a really smart kid, and he said, “Damn, you know I’ve never heard people have an argument about poetry.”
And you and Lucas were having an argument about poetry?
Not like fisticuffs, but yes. You know, probably 100 percent of interviews and articles written about me start with punk rock. I have nothing against it, I went to those gigs—hell, I even brought my older brother into that scene. But geez, what that amounts to in my lifetime and work? It’s so absurd. That was a time where to be witty or even just conversational was a big NO. It was all about making faces for the camera, and singing with a Johnny Rotten sneer. That is still amazingly what I’m known for. I’ve been on Twitter for a couple of years, and it was a revelation to learn that that’s how I’m perceived.
It sounds like you should stay away from Twitter, because if you know too much about how people misunderstand you, it can mess you up.
No, I mean, I like the idea of 140 characters, and the conciseness. Some of my drawings sprawl on and on, but with Twitter it is a challenge; it does keep your mind sharp in a sense. And, everything I do on that is—well, maybe I have no connection with reality. But people, sometimes they’ll say, “I don’t know what the fuck you’re saying, but I like reading it,” or whatever. Or sometimes it’s much more negative.