Pittman uses an exacting, layered painting technique to create an MTV-speed montage of images and themes. A narrative is implied, although Pittman cautions that there is no single fixed meaning. An older male gazes at younger ones, some of whom wear headgear symbolizing victory, sainthood and martyrdom. Three shed tears, suggesting mourning. Flowers with insects are traditional symbols that remind us that delight and beauty must eventually give way to death. Bottles and a distillation device allude to alchemy, the pseudo-science aimed at transforming lead into gold. 'Thankfully' “destabilizes” gender issues, asking why elements associated positively with femininity have a negative connotation when linked to males. The unusual tense in the title implies that the painting addresses what is possible in the future but not certain.
Lari Pittman Thankfully, I will have had learned to break glass with sound, 1999 Collection of the Akron Art Museum In contrast to the elliptical tone and ironic stance of much recent art, Lari Pittman’s paintings give voice to an independent vision that embraces passion and beauty while reflecting an American culture that is contentious socially and sexually. Deploying a panorama of layered images in his paintings, the artist intends to evoke not chaos but an awareness that many things happen simultaneously in life.1 Pittman’s world does not unfold in linear progression. Even the title combines future and past tenses in a way that defies traditional chronology. Pittman grew up in two cultures. Born in Southern California, he was raised for the most part in Colombia, where his mother’s family lived and his American father worked in the lumber industry. After earning undergraduate and graduate degrees from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, Pittman continued to make his own art while working at designer Angelo Donghia’s showroom in Los Angeles. Since the early 1990s, he has taught at the University of California, Los Angeles. He lives with painter Roy Dowell in a quintessential modernist house designed by Richard Neutra. The panoramic odyssey Pittman depicts in Thankfully, I will have had learned to break glass with sound is part puzzle, part allegory. Images associated with alchemical processes and distilling apparatus are manifestations of the themes of change and transmutation. Pittman suggests that base elements might be converted into gold, and flowers distilled into perfume. A parade of handsome male faces dominates the painting. Drawn like commercial illustrations, they hover somewhere between the conventions of teen magazines and daytime television. Like all of Pittman’s immaculately painted and stenciled forms, they seem manufactured rather than handmade, harking back to the smooth surfaces of 1960s Pop Art. This effect is enhanced by his use of alkyd, an oil paint that adheres smoothly, hiding brushstrokes. The five younger men in the picture—objects of desire yet barely real—are gazed upon by the older man at the left. Does he shed tears as a sign of mourning, as an allusion to weakness, or as regret over lost youth? Perhaps his weeping relates to the oversize insects, which recall a convention in baroque painting in which flies crawl on flowers and fruit to connote the passage of time and the inevitability of decay. The array of images and words in Thankfully also reminds us of the connection between the personal and the political, the private and the public. The young men sport headgear that elicits thoughts of victory and heroism, martyrdom and loss, masculinity and femininity. Pittman explains that the painting “destabilizes” gender issues and questions why traits positively associated with femininity assume negative connotations when transferred to a male subject.2 At least one of the veils is inescapably feminine with its flowered embroidery. Another may be a reminder of a secret Masonic society or of hidden sexuality. The still that mutates into a shower head spraying golden rays of “queenliness” emanates from a figure who could represent the “boy next door,” someone who might be expected to embark on one of the ships at far right rather than explore his feminine side. While Pittman’s images have multiple, even unfixed meanings, the artist does not share postmodernism’s assertion that all meaning is arbitrary. He is instead a bit of a romantic, offering thoughtful meditations with, in his words, a bittersweet point of view.3 In an age when art’s impetus to give pleasure has often been usurped by the responsibility to enlighten and challenge, Pittman’s gorgeous surfaces and compelling imagery prove that one can have both pleasure and provocation. - Mitchell D. Kahan, 2001 1. Pittman expresses this idea in many of his interviews. See Howard N. Fox, “Joyful Noise: The Art of Lari Pittman,” in Fox, 21. 2. Telephone interview with the artist by Jeffrey Grove, December 29, 1999. 3. See Paul Schimmel, “An Interview with Lari Pittman,” in Fox, 70–71, 77. Duncan, Michael. “Flash and Filigree.” Art in America 84 (December 1996): 64–71, 113. Fox, Howard N. Lari Pittman. With contributions by Dave Hickey and Paul Schimmel. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1996. Lari Pittman: Paintings 1992–1998. With essays by Alex Farquharson and Christopher Knight. Manchester and Exeter, England: Cornerhouse and Spacex Gallery, 1998.
"L P,," located in gray flag, left side/center of second panel from left