Richard Pettibone is a leading figure of the West Coast Conceptual Pop movement and a pioneer of appropriation art, best known for incorporating famous paintings done by Pop Art icons into his work. His versions, inciting controversy, challenged ideas of ownership and originality, and have been referred to as “hypercritical reverence.”He began replicating on a miniature scale works by newly famous artists at a young age, and later included modernist masters, signing the original artist’s name as well as his own. His versions of Andy Warhol’s soup cans, Jasper Johns’ flags, Frank Stella’s black paintings, and countless more works by Roy Lichtenstein, Marcel Duchamp, Piet Mondrian, and Constantin Brancusi—all pocket-sized to evoke the intimacy of the model trains he loved as a child—incited considerable controversy. Pettibone is often seen has having paved the way for 1980s appropriation art, raising questions about the ownership of ideas and the nature of originality that are still debated today.
Writing in The New York Times, Roberta Smith notes that something besides imitation prevails in his work: “formal rigor, the personalizing effects of scale and touch, faith in materials as carriers of artistic meaning and, above all, hard-nosed, even hypercritical reverence.”