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Point Break: Raymond Pettibon, Surfers and Waves

Contributions by Stephanie Gilmore and Emily Erickson
Published by David Zwirner Books
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

About The Book

“All this must be either surfed or painted”: This is the underlying sentiment behind Raymond Pettibon’s iconic works of surfers and waves in this quintessential volume dedicated to the motif.

Pettibon is known for his characteristically enigmatic aesthetic and sharply satirical critiques of American culture. Though drenched in cynicism, his work empathizes with the dizzying madness of our own humanity as it engages both so-called high and low culture. Perhaps most poetic among the many motifs present in Pettibon’s oeuvre is the surfer. In 1985, Pettibon began his series of surfers and waves––which he continues to work on to this day––popular for depicting a lone surfer silently carving “a line of beauty” along an impossibly large wave. 

This book spotlights a selection of more than one hundred surfers from the series, from smaller monochromatic works on paper to colorful large-scale paintings applied directly to the wall. For Pettibon’s protagonist in these works, surfing exists apart from all else. Momentarily he achieves sublimity on the wave, distant yet synced with turbulent reality. We are forced to confront our own scale: small and feeble in the face of the power of nature, what is beyond our control. Pettibon’s lyrical writings on these painted surfaces—both his own and lines taken from literature—reference his own philosophies and the confusions of reality: he critiques and highlights the hypocrisies and vanities of the world he engages. To help navigate, the scholar Brian Lukacher explores art-historical antecedents in Pettibon’s work, particularly the seascapes of J. M. W. Turner, and Jamie Brisick, the writer and former professional surfer, examines the Southern California surf and music culture of Pettibon’s youth. Professional big wave surfers Emi Erickson and Stephanie Gilmore also describe the sensory experience of conquering the enormous waves depicted in Pettibon’s works.


“In recent years, Raymond has produced a flurry of surf paintings, most of them pitting a tiny surfer against a giant, spectacular wave. It’s impossible to not see the self-portrait: Raymond the artist, streaking across the pitching, heaving, throaty blue wall that is his hopes/dreams/ideas that ping around in his head. It’s also impossible to not see how he’s selected the perfect metaphor.” —Jamie Brisick

About The Authors

Raymond Pettibon’s (b. 1957) influential oeuvre engages a wide spectrum of American iconography variously pulled from literature, art history, philosophy, religion, politics, sports, and alternative youth culture, among other sources. Intermixing image and text, his drawings engage the visual rhetorics of pop and commercial culture while incorporating language from mass media as well as classic texts by writers such as William Blake, Marcel Proust, John Ruskin, and Walt Whitman. Through his exploration of the visual and critical potential of drawing, Pettibon’s practice harkens back to the traditions of satire and social critique in the work of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century artists and caricaturists such as William Hogarth, Gustave Doré, and Honoré Daumier, while reinforcing the importance of the medium within contemporary art and culture today.

Former professional surfer Jamie Brisick is a writer and photographer whose work has appeared in The Surfer’s JournalThe New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Guardian

Brian Lukacher is a professor of art history at Vassar College. 

Product Details

  • Publisher: David Zwirner Books (June 7, 2022)
  • Length: 192 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781644230350

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Raves and Reviews

"Perhaps no subject better captures the spirit of Mr. Pettibon’s drawings than that of surfers dwarfed by towering waves."

– Nancy Princenthal, The New York Times

“This volume brings together a host of reflections on the smallness and feebleness of humans in the face of the grandiosity of mother nature—an element entirely beyond our realm of control.”

– Flaunt Magazine

"Pettibon’s surfers can muster a whirlwind of emotions within the viewer. They “express the terror and bliss of being alive,” said The Skateroom founder, Charles-Antoine Bodson, on a recent partnership with the artist."

– Hypebeast

"Pettibon’s bread is canvas and his ink spreads smooth, baby."

– Beach Grit

"For most certainly we have discovered the most aesthetically-pleasing book released this June.”

– Refreads

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