Shirley Pettibone, Ocean at Montana D’Oro, 1974, oil on canvas, 29 x30 in. The Delaware Art Museum permanent collection.

Beginning in 1973, Shirley Pettibone began a 40 year journey as a photorealist painter. Until her death in 2011, she dedicated herself to the craft of painting detailed scenes mostly of water bodies and clouds. The movement then in its infancy was championed by Ivan Karp who had shown Pettibone’s work at his first gallery Hundred Acres.

In an artist statement that relates to her work as a realist she wrote:

“In the 1970’s I began painting sections of water and sky in oil in a photo-realist style, later adding the mediums of watercolor and monotype. As my work has progressed over the years, my realism has become much less dependent on photographic information, and I have become more interested in the abstract, calligraphic quality of the strokes and in the symbolism of my subject matter.

Water surface colored by light is moved by tide, gravity, fish, bird, stone. Objects below, on and reflecting on the surface combine to form an interwoven complexity of levels. Overlapping planes of detailed plant forms backlit against the landscape are another source of inspiration. Each painting is a specific place, time, and season.

I am a realist, but some of the symbolism of my early work still lies beneath the surface. I have never liked obvious statements but have chosen ambiguous symbolism and suggestion in order to give the viewer choices. My love and concern for nature and the environment are an important element in my art, and I hope my work conveys a life affirming spirit to others.”

This turn from being a groundbreaking feminist artist in the 60’s to becoming an environmentalist and poet of nature forms the basis of a life dedicated to art and important ideas.