Pettibon is known for his characteristically youthful aesthetic and sharply satirical critique of American culture. Though drenched in cynicism, his work empathizes with the dizzying madness of our own humanity as it engages both so-called high and low culture. Perhaps most poetic of the many motifs present in Pettibon’s oeuvre is the surfer. In 1985 Pettibon began Surfers––a series he continues to work on to this day––popular for its depiction of the lone surfer silently carving “a line of beauty,” along an impossibly large wave.
This publication traces a selection of one hundred surfers from the series, from smaller monochromatic works on paper to colorful large-scale paintings applied directly to the wall. For Pettibon’s protagonist in these works―his countercultural hero―surfing exists apart from all else. Momentarily he achieves sublimity on the wave, distant yet synced with turbulent reality. We are forced to confront our own scale: small and feeble in the face of so much sublime power. Pettibon’s lyrical writings on these painted surfaces―both his own and taken from literature―reference his own philosophies and the confusions of reality―he critiques the hypocrisies and vanities of the world he engages. To help navigate, the renowned New Yorker writer and Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, William Finnegan, perfectly distills the transcendent nature and lack thereof in Pettibon’s work.