All punk rock ever wanted to do was return music and art to the people. Despite the apparent lack of skills and shocking results, these "musicians" were talented innovators with a desperate need to revolutionize various genres gone static in the 1970s. Too bad only a few enlightened people "got it" at the time. In Southern California, Raymond Pettibon provided artwork for a do-it-yourself scene coalescing mostly around his brother Greg Ginn's label SST Records. Gracing album covers (Black Flag, Minutemen, Sonic Youth), T-shirts, and gig flyers were crude, ink-wash drawings that depicted emotional, ugly people in horrifying situations but also caught as a deep, sometimes-funny truth emerges. It's this capture of the "moment of truth" that quickly catapulted Pettibon from mere decorator-to-the-Underground to certified artistic genius.
The exhibition "American Short Stories: Saul Steinberg/Raymond Pettibon" at the Museum of Contemporary Art pairs Pettibon with Saul Steinberg, The New Yorker cartoonist best known for "A View of the World from Ninth Avenue" (included in the show). Like Steinberg, Pettibon's works tend to be one-paneled "cartoons" dependent on a grasp of American culture and archetypes. But while Steinberg presents a lighthearted, neurotically self-centered New York, Pettibon's dark observations tap a psychotic Southern California where meaning is only suggested and viewers must collaborate by filling in the psychological blanks with their own head trips. Accentuated by Pettibon's seemingly haphazard, razor-slash brushstrokes, these snippets appear more appropriate for a psychiatrist's office than a fine art museum. However, the trademark style allows text elements to have an equal graphic weight that would be unbalanced by finely rendered images and still lends credence to the punk ethos that anybody can make or at least identify with art. Overall this retrospective keeps to Pettibon's more introspective pieces instead of the crueler ones, yet remains piercingly funny.