The Contemporary Drawing of Yoshitomo Nara and Raymond Pettibon and the issue of Binge Drinking

Essay by Luke Foster

This essay is about themes very familiar to me. When I was young at art school after the death of my best friend Nick at the age of 17 I turned to binge drinking on weekends with my punk friend Brad Seaton. I think I remember him having blue dreadlocks. I had dirty matted hair and sported ripped jeans and a severe drinking habit. This self-abuse through booze along with a few recreational drugs resulted in me dropping out of art school in my second year and diving into a dark and deep depression. I was feeling suicidal and was lucky to come out of it alive. My friend put me in Siddha Yoga mediation and I went straight edge went back to art school and started blitzing it at art school getting straight high distinctions in sculpture.

This essay is also about contemporary drawings of Yoshitomo Nara and Raymond Pettibon. Pettibon emerged as a cult artist in America for his zines and album covers for punk bands Sonic Youth and Black Flag in the eighties. My favourite is for the album cover Goo for Sonic Youth. It’s an archetypal Pettibon ink drawing of a punk or new wave couple with a provocative bit of text. I am listening to the album now on CD but my friend Brad had it as a record and the cover was much more striking on that scale. I also have it as t-shirt but it is quite tatty now.

I didn’t hear about Yoshitomo Nara until 2001 when I was working as a preparator setting up a show at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art. There was a group show of contemporary Japanese art called Neo –Tokyo. One of the artists showing was Yoshitomo Nara. He had a large plaster dish with a painting on it. A series of bright coloured sculptures called the little pilgrims but what struck me most was a bevy of small drawings in colour pencil on the back of envelopes pinned up higgity piggity on the wall. I had told the young translator working with the install that I was a drawing artist and without me asking she organised a drawing swap between me and Nara. He generously pulled out a drawing from his folder of a girl on the back of an envelope and I brought in an A4 drawing with art line pen for him the next day.

Later that year I travelled to India and South Korea several times over the next few years. In Korea I returned to my binge drinking habits of art school. Perhaps from a few recreational drugs or drinking or perhaps a combination of both I ended up hospitalised several times and began anti-psychotic drugs and a battle of the bulge in response to the drugs that make you continuously hungry no matter how much you eat. Binge drinking almost killed me and I became grossly overweight and seedy looking.

Nara also has a link to punk music like Pettibon. Early in his career he did mainly drawings as he couldn’t afford canvas to paint as he spent most of his money on records mainly punk records. A lot of his drawings are inspired by the DIY ethos of punk music. For example a drawing with the text : Cheers For You! Drawn with crayons on the back of an envelope of a wide eyed child playing a guitar on a stool is emblematic of Nara’s drawings. “Nara like Pettibon also did album covers for punk bands and alternative bands including Japanese punk all girl band Shonen Knife and American band REM.

Another not so tenuous link I have to Raymond Pettibon is that he did album covers and posters for the punk band Black Flag. Back in 1991 I and my friend Brad went to see a spoken word performance by former lead singer of Black Flag Henry Rollins at the Lansdowne Hotel in Sydney.We got there early and sat on the stage looking up at him while he did his talk reverentially. He is a gifted orator. But what is more remarkable is that he is straight edge meaning he never drinks smokes or does drugs. My favourite spoken word piece by him is called I Think I Know You, which is a difficult piece he wrote about being lonely as a teenager and having low self-esteem. I am pretty sure you can find it on YouTube. 

Drinking heavily can lead to an early grave. So Henry Rollins straight edge example is a great example to follow.