This monumentally sized work is comprised of five panels. Lari Pittman has filled up the painting, flattening perspective and making each panel sparkle with activity. By bringing everything to the surface, Pittman creates a device upon which to layer more. Pittman’s work does not easily break down into typical binaries, and here he actively seeks to disrupt them. The imagery is both interior and exterior, decorative and narrative, graphic and painterly. The work depicts an event in full swing — an upheaval of order, perhaps a riot or a parade with androgynous thong-wearing revelers and hands that could be praying or clapping. The scale and the amount of imagery in Pittman’s painting are aggressively magnanimous. Rendered in exquisite detail, the overflowing canvas presents nuanced complexities and the city portrayed may even be Los Angeles in the aftermath of the 1992 riots.
With an extensive repertoire of symbols and decorative motifs, excised from far-ranging sources, Lari Pittman weaves innovative, visually dense pictures that convey poignant themes and reveal information into every inch of the canvas. Contrary to the cool and reserved aesthetic of conceptual and minimal art, Pittman’s approach revels in the use of artifice. His pursuit of diversity and inclusion in his paintings belies a perspective on social issues. He believes that reducing people and cultures to generalizations, no matter how seemingly profound, is limiting and often privileges a destructive and repressive impulse.
Where the Soul Intact Will Shed Its Scabs (8624 A.D.), 1987–88, exemplifies Pittman’s skill with decoration and iconographic symbolism. With a particular interest in historicized imagery, such as sailing ships, emblems of keys, rubies, and a multitude of cyclops eyes, Pittman displays a languorous, nostalgic tendency. Unabashedly employing devices that are antimodern and typically considered not weighty enough for contemporary painting, Pittman affirms the capacity of decorative painterly traditions to carry meaning.
Untitled, 2007, marks several important transitions in Pittman’s career. While continuing to use dark, crimson-soaked imagery, Pittman starts to draw on the location of his new home in Mexico, presenting the terrain from mission style churches to water wells to cacti. At the same time, Pittman has begun to move away from a collaged, all-over compositional style to a unified pictorial field. Rather than fractured pieces, the works are held together as coherent narrative pictures.