Born in Bakersfield in 1936, Shirley Pettibone is one of the few Natives Californian artists to have worked within the sphere of the Los Angeles avant garde in the 60’s. She studies at the Otis Art Institute where she works on ambitious assemblage pieces. It is there that she meets and marries artist Richard Pettibone.
Abandoning the traditional rectilinear canvas support, Pettibone finds a like sensibility in the company of assemblage artists such as Wallace Berman and George Herms. She presents works in a solo exhibition at Aura Gallery in 1963 that includes a series of drawings that showcase the artist’s unabashedly feminist sensibility.
In the mid 60’s, she initiates a series of works using the silkscreen printing technique. Shirley chose to explore themes that would become a staple of her later photorealist works. The resulting paintings are presented in a group exhibition titled “Four” at the California State College, Fine Arts Gallery in 1966. In the catalogue page reserved to her work Pettibone writes as an artist statement: “Water water. Water water water water. Water water water water water water. Clouds clouds clouds clouds clouds clouds. Clouds clouds clouds clouds clouds clouds. Clouds clouds. Clouds clouds.”
Clouds and Mountains silkscreen paintings from 1965-68
In an artist statement written in the latter part of her career, Pettibone reflected on these early works and saw them in a continuum of her later research. She wrote:
“I began creating original work around 1961. At the time I felt it was impossible to do flat paintings anymore, that real objects reflected substance, but I was adding magic by painting them with additional imagery. An early series of collaged drawings with paint included parts of photographs of nude women. I regard these as a poetic, enigmatic celebration of Woman as a personal statement. At this time, I also began exploring the possibilities of using polyester resin as a stiffening agent for cloth in my three-dimensional paintings to convey strength. I did a series of rumpled images with ambiguous content including flower and body parts. These pieces were both a celebration of the feminine and a protest against the conformity of the constrictive 1950’s.”