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Wayne Thiebaud

American

1920, Mesa, Arizona
2021, Sacramento, California

Biography

Bay Area artist Wayne Thiebaud worked first as a graphic designer and cartoonist before beginning his painting career in the mid-1950s. He combined a number of interests then current in American art: thick, gestural brushwork, everyday subject matter, and commercial imagery.

Thiebaud is best known for his paintings of cakes, pies, and candies arranged in classic diner or cafeteria style. Thiebaud depicts these objects as commodities, their emphasis on appearance as much as taste. He achieved this effect through serial repetition, synthetic colors, and, famously, by painting with a knife, as if he were spreading the "frosting" onto his cakes. By focusing on sugary foodstuffs, Thiebaud updated the traditional still-life genre for the age of mass production and consumption.

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Are Thiebaud’s paintings about nostalgia?

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NARRATOR: 

California artist Wayne Thiebaud is perhaps best known for his paintings of cakes, pies and candies from the 1950s and ‘60s: still-lifes for the consumer age. But his career goes far beyond what some consider to be his pop art. It spans 70 years and includes figurative, landscape, and city paintings. Critic Michael Kimmelman. 

 

KIMMELMAN: 

There is in his work something, I think, different. There is a really nostalgic element in his work. And you see it in those beautiful blue halos and the kind of light that his work always is filled with, this really lush light. And theres a sense almost of memory. And I think that thats not exactly something that you perceive as strictly pop, which is very much about the here and now. 

 

But I also think that theres another quality of imagination in the work. And part of that comes from its sources, which are Monet, who interests him a great deal, and Chinese painting. 

 

NARRATOR: 

Like his Impressionist predecessor Monet, Thiebaud is acutely interested in color. His sunlit areas rich, warm tones contrast with areas of shadowed coolness. Thick, saturated hues outline the edges of his forms. And Thiebaud indulges and delights in the sheer physicality of paint. 

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