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March 12 - May 28, 2006 at Laguna Art Museum, Orange County

by Daniella Walsh

Richard Pettibone, “Roy Lichtenstein,
‘Trigger Finger’; Frank Stella, ‘Yozd II’; ‘Yozd II’,”
1969, acrylic on shaped canvas, 9 1/2 x 9 1/2”.

Richard Pettibone, "Marcel Duchamp, 'Fountain,' 1964 and Andy Warhol, 'Flowers,' 1964,"
2003, oil on canvas, 8 5/16 x 16 3/8".

Richard Pettibone, "Andy Warhol,
'Marilyn Monroe,' 1964," 1969, oil
on canvas, 5 1/4 x 5 1/4 x 1/2".

Turning the plebian into the sublime has always been considered the premise of Andy Warhol, who thus spawned legions of admirers, detractors and copycats.

Seen as a copycat by some, and as an appropriationist to others, Richard Pettibone is an iconoclast who, during the course of four decades, has turned notions of originality on their head.  While Warhol reproduced products and made countless serial images of public figures like Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley or Jackie Kennedy, Pettibone made it his mission to reproduce the reproductions, albeit on a smaller and more appealing scale.

But this survey of the artist’s work shows that appropriation of Warhol’s oeuvre is just a small segment of Pettibone’s surprisingly diverse repertoire.  He also took on Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” contemporary icons such as Robert Rauschenberg and Frank Stella, to name a few.  Then again, he found inspiration in the clean-lined furniture (though not the religious tenets) of the Shakers and, in a removed but somewhat similar vein, the reductivist aesthetic of Constantin Brancusi.

Pettibone’s work displays wit and a whimsical, self-depreciating sense of humor in his incorporation of text/word art, a pop art offshoot often associated with Ed Ruscha.  Since Pettibone admires Ezra Pound, he quotes the poet in some works and also has reproduced the dustcovers of Pound’s books.  In an interview (published in the accompanying catalog) the artist quotes Pound regarding the need for bad painters to be punished, taking the point a step further to include painters who aim to merely please the public.

Thus Pettibone implies that he prefers to photograph and re-paint good museum pieces, rather than produce bad original ones of his own.  The virtue of such thinking really is up to you to decide.  But it seems that he wants us to get into the works--and perhaps in his face--by asking whether he’s making art or simply plagiarizing.

“The Seven Laughters of God and Other Paintings” features F. Scott Hess’s latest body of work.  It amply illustrates why his technique and style is frequently regarded as Old Master in the positive sense.  A representational painter who, at times, channels Albrecht Dürer, Hess also offers some of the most intellectually and emotionally demanding narratives I’ve seen recently.

Hess’ multi-layered storylines are based on his personal life.  They involve family, friends, lovers and students; and a wide breadth of literary traditions, writings of philosophers, and the inescapable and all pervasive psychological tenets of Sigmund Freud.

Unabashedly erotic and provocative, while also retaining a tantalizing sense of mystery, these paintings are not for the faint hearted.  Looking at “The Painter and His Daughter” some may perceive an implicit erotic attachment, while others may merely see a father’s wonderment at the developmental mystery of a woman on the cusp of grown-up sexuality.

F. Scott Hess, “Light” from “The Seven
Laughters of God” series, 2003,
oil on canvas, 54 x 66”.

F. Scott Hess, “Soul” from “The Seven
Laughters of God” series, 2005,
oil on canvas, 54 x 66”.

In their entirety the paintings are also intensely spiritual, as the title, based on an ancient Egyptian creation myth implies:  God as creator laughed seven times and created the lesser gods of Firmament, Light, Mind, Fate, Generation, Time and Soul. They open a window to the journey of life of a complex and supremely talented individual.