This is an artwork by Lari Pittman. It's called "Like You" from 1995.
First of all, it's really large and it's covered with all sorts of visual information, so I find it at first sort of difficult to figure out what's going on. It could be a parade. It could be a riot. There are helicopters all over the scene. There are these sort of human forms that are kind of cartoonish and they have breasts and penises and butts and they seem fairly happy. Throughout the painting, there's sort of sticks standing up with signs on them. And maybe that's where we can start to read this as a moment of activism or a protest.
Maybe it's a pride event. They started really more as protests than as parades as they are today. This work dates to 1995, so even just thinking about the gay rights movement between then and now, the amount of change that has happened is epic in this country. I think this one is pretty clear —particularly, the use of language —in its representation of gay culture.
So it says, "Like you I despair. Sometimes an overwhelming sadness. A deep funky funk. But go girl grab it by the tail." So there's definitely this undertone of sadness and the difficult aspects of this world that we live in but then there's also this way that we are all just beings trying to connect with each other and find our way. We can see Pittman and breaking down these binaries and not allowing us to read the painting as one or the other but making it be everything simultaneously.
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.