Originally making his mark as part of the Pop Art movement of the 1960s, Wayne Thiebaud‘s careful studies of everyday objects, figures and landscapes have come to be part of the art world vernacular. Spark checks in on Thiebaud as he reflects on a career that has spanned more than seven decades.
Thiebaud began working in the commercial arts in the late 1930s, primarily as a cartoonist and designer. During World War II, he served as an artist for the U.S. Air Force. Upon his return to civilian life, he continued working as a commercial artist until enrolling in the master’s program at Sacramento State College. After earning his M.A. in 1952, Thiebaud went on to teach at Sacramento City College, eventually landing a position at the University of California, Davis.
In the 1960s, Thiebaud took a leave of absence from UC Davis to spend some time in New York, where he met abstract expressionists Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, along with then-emerging artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Impressed with their work, Thiebaud began a series of small paintings showing food displayed in windows – subject matter that he returned to again and again throughout his career. In fact, Thiebaud’s subject matter forms a kind of record of the artist’s life, as new experiences and environments brought new objects and views to represent.
Although Thiebaud may be best known for his everyday subject matter, his works are also painstaking examinations of the fundamental language of paint: light, color, space, composition and surface. Each canvas offers him an investigation of a series of formal problems. A painting of a bowl of cherries might reveal a study of varied light effects, while a San Francisco cityscape might allow him the opportunity to play with rational space.
Spark visits with Thiebaud in his studio as he prepares for a traveling retrospective of his work from the past 50 years, including more than a hundred paintings. Though many of the paintings were completed years before, Thiebaud tirelessly works and reworks aspects of images that he wants to change, often building up the surfaces of his backgrounds, resolving the image, then reopening it again.