At Large  November 13, 2020  Chandra Noyes

Wayne Thiebaud Keeps Painting at 100

© 2020 Wayne Thiebaud / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Wayne Thiebaud, Pies, Pies, Pies, 1961. Oil on canvas.

The great American artist Wayne Thiebaud turns one hundred on Sunday, and he seems unfazed. Having begun his work as an artist as a teenager, Thiebaud has had over eighty years to hone his craft, but that doesn't mean he has any plans to rest on his laurels. In a recent interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, the artist said of his centenary birthday plans, “I’ll just go to work. I’m a pretty boring guy.”

But his art, despite its apparently mundane subject matter, is anything but boring, and has made him one of the most famous and popular artists working today. His paintings of pies, cakes, and other treats delight and intrigue. His landscapes, often of the agrarian countryside surrounding his home of Sacramento, show a new and different side of the land, offering a textured understanding of the way a view unfolds through an altered perspective. His portraits, which he attempts to present without narrative, create a Hopper-esque tension surrounding his characters.

© 2020 Wayne Thiebaud / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Wayne Thiebaud, Dark Glasses, 1991. Gouache on paper.

Born in Arizona, Thiebaud has spent most of his life in California, including earning a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts from California State University, Sacramento. He went on to have a long career teaching at the University of California, Davis, where he has influenced generations of artists.

Though often associated with Pop Art for his consumeristic subject matter, Thiebaud's thick, layered application of paint sets him apart from other pop artists like Andy Warhol, who emphasized clean, almost manufactured works of art. Thiebaud's interest in the shapes and forms in his compositions, as well as his painting technique, aligns him with the Abstract Expressionists that were his friends and contemporaries. 

© 2020 Wayne Thiebaud / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Wayne Thiebaud, Cake Window, from Delights series, 1964. Etching.

Working in his own unique style, Thiebaud described his humble goals as "to try and paint at any time any subject matter in any medium under the general heading ‘people, places and things." Throughout his prolific career, this has encompassed a broad range of media and subjects.

One hundred of these works are on display now in Wayne Thiebaud 100: Paintings, Prints, and Drawings at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, which has a large collection of his works and has hosted a Thiebaud exhibition every decade since 1951. The exhibition will travel to the Toledo Museum of Art in February. Also opening this week is a solo exhibition at Berggruen Gallery in San Francisco.

But Thiebaud seems to be taking his accomplishments in stride. For an artist still hard at work at the age of one hundred, the exhibitions are just another feather in his cap, in addition to the National Medal of Arts presented by President Bill Clinton in 1994 and numerous other awards. His latest body of works depicts clowns, fitting for a masterful artist who refuses to take himself or his work too seriously.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is the former Managing Editor for Art & Object.

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