Lari Pittman

Lari Pittman was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1952. Pittman received both a BFA (1974) and an MFA (1976) from California Institute of the Arts, Valencia. Inspired by commercial advertising, folk art, and decorative traditions, his meticulously layered paintings transform pattern and signage into luxurious scenes fraught with complexity, difference, and desire. In a manner both visually gripping and psychologically strange, Pittman’s hallucinatory works reference myriad aesthetic styles, from Victorian silhouettes to social realist murals to Mexican “retablos.”

Pittman uses anthropomorphic depictions of furniture, weapons, and animals—loaded with symbolism—to convey themes of romantic love, violence, and mortality. His paintings and drawings are a personal rebellion against rigid, puritanical dichotomies. They demonstrate the complementary nature of beauty and suffering, pain and pleasure—and direct the viewer’s attention to bittersweet experiences and the value of sentimentality in art. Despite subject matter that changes from series to series, Pittman’s deployment of simultaneously occurring narratives and opulent imagery reflects the rich heterogeneity of American society, the artist’s Colombian heritage, and the distorting effects of hyper-capitalism on everyday life.

Pittman has received many awards, including a Pacific Design Center Stars of Design Award (2004); the Skowhegan Medal (2002); and three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1987, 1989, 1993). He has had major exhibitions at Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1998); Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1996); and Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston (1996). He has participated in the Venice Biennale (2003); Documenta × (1997); and three Whitney Biennial exhibitions (1993, 1995, 1997). Pittman lives and works in Los Angeles.

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Conversation Starter

What qualifies being an artist?

Does formal schooling, apprenticeships, or personal passions determine an artist? When does one get to call oneself the honorific?


Craft and Influences

Lari Pittman discusses his earliest teachers and influences, as well as the role craft plays in his work.


Culture and Aesthetic Sensibility

Artist Lari Pittman talks about his relationship to his hometown, Los Angeles, as well as the ways in which time and balance are investigated through his paintings.