McLean is Canadian, and Pettibon is American, but both artists mine the alcoves of their ‘place’, generating dynamic and autobiographical works that speak to both home and nowhere. What further unites them is a unique vocabulary, one exercised through the defining criteria of art, illustration, and design, and an old-school sense of too-cool narrative.
McLean displays nearly sixty works produced since the time of his return to London, Ontario (where he grew-up, but from where he has led an exceptionally itinerant agenda). A graduate of London’s respected Beal Art program, which includes alumni like Jamelie Hassan, Ed Pien, and Greg Curnoe, McLean’s wandering and ruminative “mappings” are everything exciting while sending a honing beacon for place.
The influence of McLean’s travels in Europe and North American are readily apparent in this body of work, so too his time spent living in Toronto and Vancouver; however, it is his mappings of London and the surrounding area that command attention.
Sincerely playful and naively charming, these loose geographical maps -- like “Cebo’s at Siegels’s” -- weave personalized and anecdotal text with true-blue space and place.
The ‘space’ acknowledged here includes the geography of McLean’s mind. The skirmishes of color, thought, and scattered reflection provide a clear sanguinity, while others are almost torturously confessional. His drawings, paintings, and sculptures reveal the gradations of a father, artist, and husband struggling to marry his realities. Works like “Crash of the Junkman” and “Motorhead” powerfully represent the tension between McLean’s ideas and their unpredictable consequences, both in art and lived reality.
Pattibon’s influence on McLean is transparent; hell, in Pettibon’s exhibit, books and magazines featuring Pettibon are displayed in a case beneath four original works, all from McLean’s private collection. The visual device not only facilitates a conceptual connection between the two but a transitional one as well. While McLean’s show offers the (frenetic) serenity of personal contemplation, Pettibon’s show trashes it.
Inside Pettibon’s gallery, the pith and vigor of hardcore punk music saturates the space while providing excellent context to the DIY aesthetic and incendiary tones that Pettibon’s work typifies. Curated by David Platzker and distributed by ICI (Independent Curators International), Pettibon work has been a central tenant to the LA punkrock scene for decades, with the artist designing albums, covers, and posters for bands such as Black Flag, Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Dead Kennedys, and the Ramones. Like his fellow countrymen, the legendary singer songwriter Daniel Johnston (a friend of McLean’s), Pettibon moves freely between music and visual art as a cult figure. agitating before his international recognition.
Out of the nearly 200 works in the show -- comprised of media like album covers, posters, fliers, zines, and stickers -- all are wondrously crude and yet calculatedly perverted. A drawing of a newborn child branded with a capitalized “A” on its forehead, or a famous Black Flag record, “Slip It In” -- which features a disgruntled nun cradling a hairy man’s leg – sees Pettibon as a raconteur of provocation. But unlike Robert Crumb, who played-out his misogynist sexual fantasies on the page, Pettibon’s approach is deeply political and directed.
The hardcore punk movement, of which Pettibon was a member, expressed its fury towards what it saw as oppressive social, religious, and economic systems and policies. For the punks, words and images were napalm, and it was used generously.
The Catholic Church was an easy target, so too were Reaganomics. In Wasted Youth’s “Reagan’s In,” the lyrics read, “Reinstate the draft and tell us lies / You fight a war where no one wins / Where people die and bodies burn.” While most leaned left, many fed off their outrage with the right. This played-out in song, spoken word, and visual art.
Nevertheless, through vitriolic imagery, and the puncturing of established meanings and complacency, there lies a deep engagement with the human condition in Pettibon’s work. His descriptive texts are often morbid and cynical, though also sometimes tender. The cover of a Black Flag poster shows a woman gently whispering, “I don’t want to live without love” into the ear of a dying man, presumably her lover. The draw of sentiment is quickly erased, however, when one realizes that the dying man’s blood drips from his left hand as he has a full erection. So it goes.
Ultimately, Pettibon’s effects and observations are not unlike McLean’s: the positive is often clouded by the negative, and reality’s harshness is made felt, despite the suggestion of ‘home’. But this is what makes both bodies of work so powerful, so engaging, so relatable.
“Jason McLean: if you could read my mind” and “Raymond Pettibon: The Punk Years, 1978-86” continue at the McIntosh Gallery through November 3rd.