Monday, 5 November 2012

Raymond Pettibon - Gumby

Gumby, 1992

Raymond Pettibon (born Raymond Ginn on June 16, 1957 in Tucson, Arizona) is an American artist who lives and works in Venice Beach, California.

Untitled (The Figurativer), 1998

Max Blagg: How did Gumby slide into your work?

RP: I saw him on TV. The appeal was that he could go into books and become part of the story.

MB: I just saw a documentary, Gumby Dharma [2006], about Gumby's creator, Art Clokey. He was talking about how he had to change Gumby's head shape so Gumby didn't look like a penis.

RP: Well, TV executives . . . there's always going to be someone reacting like that.

Untitled (Like a Gumdrop) 1991

‘Prickle’ and ‘Goo’ are characters from the American television animation series based on the green clay humanoid character Gumby, that was screened on television in the 1950s and 60s, and revived in the 1980s. Created by Art Clokey, Gumby had several friends, including Goo, a blue mermaid-like blob, and Prickle, a yellow dinosaur. Pettibon has used the character Gumby repeatedly in his drawings. In two works made in 1991, We are Sculptors and Pose! The Command... (both Sammlung Rudolf Zwirner, Cologne), Gumby appears with Goo, whom he claims to have created and to direct. In both these works, Pettibon plays on the relationship between an artist and his creation as well as gender stereotypes. The relationships between men and women are a recurring theme in his drawings. In Like a Gumdrop, Goo reflects: ‘It’s at times like these when men are such blockheads!’ and ‘Men are such dinosaurs!’ parodying cartoon clichés from the 1950s and 60s at the same time as playing on the characters of the Gumby cartoon.
Elizabeth Manchester

Gumby, Sense of Form..., 1990

ART21: Can we talk about the Gumby theme in your work?

PETTIBON: Gumby? To put it in general terms, you’ll see in my work this tendency to take on some very ridiculous subject. Possibly you can look at it as being so far out there as to be, kind of, just a stray thought. Going back to the heroic figures, you can speak about a wider area of things that happen that puts the responsibility on the shoulders of something like Gumby. It’s not done in any sarcastic way. It’s not even meant to call attention to itself. All I’m really asking is for you to look at that with the same kind of respect that you would if it was some important historical figure or Greek statue. Or the usual subject matters that artists tend to use.

There’s also a reason why Gumby in particular works for me so well. Because it does relate to the way I make work, which has very much to do with words and reading in particular. Gumby is a kind of metaphor for how I work. He actually goes into the book, goes into a biography or historical book, and interacts with real figures from the past, and he becomes part of it. He brings it to another direction. And I tend to do that in my work. That’s why Gumby is a particularly important figure to me. I have to give credit to the figure of Gumby himself because it’s not something that I’m raising up by his bootstraps and putting in this high-art realm. Gumby’s creator, Art Clokey, was a pretty brilliant guy, and it wasn’t like the original Gumby cartoons weren’t worth paying attention to and that I’m rescuing him from Saturday morning children’s cartoons.

ART21: Is Gumby like an alter ego?

PETTIBON: Gumby represents an alter ego for my work as an artist. He represents me as an alter ego. There’s actually a lot more to that figure than just ninety-eight ounces of clay or whatever. Art Clokey was into Zen Buddhism and into a lot of pretty deep stuff for Saturday morning cartoons.

Clokey was a pretty hip figure in Los Angeles and in the counterculture of the ’60s and the ’50s—the beatniks and the hippies. I have a lot of respect and affection for him, and for Pokey as well, and Goo, Prickle, and even the Blockheads. One other thing that I’ve never thought of—that Gumby does for me in some of his cartoons—is he goes into a biography or historical book and he interacts with real figures from the past: George Washington or whatever. And I tend to do that in my work and in my videos, as well.

No title (There is a touch of poetry…, 1997-2001

For his part, Pettibon is always looking for a way into books, which accounts for his attraction to the figure of Gumby, the cartoon character who squeezes into various tomes, interacts with the characters he finds there and changes the direction of the originating story. There is a drawing from 1977, which shows a slightly turquoise Gumby attempting to pass through the brown cover of a book, pleading, “Let me in—Let me illustrate!” The other messages on the page combine advertising slogans with biblical utterance; “NO MERE FOOTNOTE,” “ILLUMINATION! NOT ILLUSTRATION!” and “IT IS REWRITTEN.” Characteristically, the drawing is untitled, but the parenthetical name is Staking His Claim. The claim comes from both the drawn character and the drawing artist. Gumby is Raymond’s surrogate.
Robert Enright 


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