Wayne Thiebaud 1920–2021
Wayne Theibaud is an American painter and printmaker, often associated with Pop Art of the 1960s, but his life-long attention to form and light places him more in line with Modern painters such as Pierre Bonnard, Claude Monet and Giorgio Morandi, albeit with a concern for the contemporary, everyday American landscape. Thiebaud is famous for his nostalgic and deadpan depictions of pastries, sandwiches, shoes and candy, but he also painted northern California landscapes, the San Francisco cityscape and portraits with a similar concern for the play of light, interrelation of forms and rich, vibrant colors.
Thiebaud was born in Mesa, Arizona in 1920 and grew up in Long Beach, California. From an early age he was influenced by cartoon animation, citing Krazy Kat as an inspiration, and he studied commercial art in high school. He spent a summer as an apprentice at Walt Disney Studios and went on to work as a sign painter, cartoonist and illustrator from 1939 to 1949. Thiebaud began his formal arts education in 1949 and graduated with a master’s degree in art history from Sacramento State College in 1953. After school, he moved to New York for a short time but did not feel connected to the anxiety and intellectualism that Abstract Expressionism was rooted in, though he did find kinship with the gestural, impasto work of Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. He returned to California and began teaching painting at University of California, Davis in 1960, where he most enjoyed teaching novices, “raw beginners,” and stressing the importance of hard work, repetition, close-seeing and practicing the formal aspects of painting and drawing.
In 1962, Thiebaud’s work was included in the groundbreaking exhibition New Painting of Common Objects at the Pasadena Art Museum, curated by Walter Hopps and considered to be the first exhibition of Pop Art. He had his first show in New York that same year, at Allan Stone Gallery, and a life-long professional relationship flourished between Thiebaud and Stone. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Thiebaud continued teaching and painting his now-iconic vibrant depictions of everyday objects such as pastries, sandwiches, shoes and candy and began to focus more on landscapes and portraits beginning in the late 1960s. Thiebaud was given a major retrospective in 1985 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and received the National Medal of Arts in 1994. His work serves as an important bridge between two eras of American modernist painting, a link between Edward Hopper and Andy Warhol, who were both intent in their examination of the mundane scenes of American life. Thiebaud is similarly concerned with the American cultural landscape, elevating it with his sumptuous, light, vibrant style. He continues to live and work in Sacramento, California.