“All [my] paintings set up this intense mannerism. Everything is hyperbolized and highly decorated. Even the decoration is decorated. It’s trying to insist on the possibility of a primary experience, but within the confines of something very artificial. The work doesn’t shy away from that.”
Lari Pittman’s approach to painting is revealed in his prismatic canvases that feature figures, symbols, patterns, and text. His work refutes the hierarchy between high art and decoration, drawing inspiration from folk art, design, and the applied arts. Over the past two decades, his focus has shifted toward philosophical reflections and dreamlike compositions, often depicting his memories, thought processes, and domestic objects in paintings that cross the traditions of vanitas, history paintings, and magical realism. Considering his own artistic lineage, Pittman has expressed relating to a historical trajectory of female painters, from Florine Stettheimer, through Surrealists such as Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington, to contemporary artists like Amy Sillman, Jutta Koether, and Charlene von Heyl.
Pittman was born in 1952 in Los Angeles and spent part of his childhood in Colombia—his mother’s birthplace. He received his BFA and MFA from the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in 1974 and 1976, respectively, and formed part of the emergent Los Angeles art scene that included his friends and peers Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy. Using imagery that invokes, for example, the colonial past of the United States or the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and ’90s, Pittman explicitly and implicitly addresses political and social themes. Pittman’s work is represented in numerous international museum collections including the Art Institute of Chicago; Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo; the Broad, Los Angeles; Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Long Museum, Shanghai; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museo Jumex, Mexico City; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
Key exhibitions of Pittman’s work have been organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1996); Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1998); Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (2013); Le Consortium, Dijon, France (2013); Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California (2016); and the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2019). His paintings have been featured in the Whitney Biennial (1987, 1993, 1995, 1997); Documenta (1997), and the Venice Biennale (2003). Pittman has received numerous awards and honors, including those from the International Association of Art Critics; National Endowment for the Arts; and the J. Paul Getty Trust Fund for the Visual Arts.