Baseball, that quintessential American sport, offers another through-line in Pettibon’s mythology—and a means to map the dreams and disappointments of Americans. Drawings and paintings depicting fictitious players abbreviate the tales of real baseball heroes. They reference legendary wins, historic defeats, and battles with alcoholism, racism, and ego. They also tell a larger story of American life, with all of its opportunities and upsets.
Pettibon takes these meditations to a more existential place with his paintings of surfers. Towering cascades of waves, dotted with microbial surfers, offer a calming salve that washes over Pettibon’s broader, acerbic body of work. Some of their captions, like “I’m a lover not a fighter” and “Don’t complicate the moral world,” poke light fun at blissfully relaxed, zoned-out surfer bums. But at their core, these works are passionate expressions of individuality and freedom. In one mighty painting, a massive wave is suspended just before it breaks. At the bottom of the composition, tiny words are scrawled, like Pettibon’s hidden, hopeful manifesto:
“With every going out and coming in, with touching bottom and with coming up for air, or staying in the tube, there is a longing for escape, beyond the sea, for a lifting, from time to time, of the actual horizon (like the necessity under which the painter finds himself, with his last tube, to set a window or a doorway in the background of his picture).”