Wayne Thiebaud is deceased. He was 101 years old.
A UC Davis faculty teacher for more than 40 years, Thiebaud died at his home in Sacramento on Saturday. His death was confirmed on Instagram by his Acquavella gallery.
“It is with great sadness that we celebrate the passing of a truly remarkable man, Wayne Thiebaud,” Acquavella said in a statement.
“An American icon, Wayne has led his life with passion and determination, inspired by his love for teaching, tennis and above all, making art. Even at 101, he still spent most of his days in the studio, driven by, as he described with his characteristic humility, “that almost neurotic fixation of trying to learn to paint.” It has been an honor to work with you.
In her memory, the gallery also shared a 2021 quote from Thiebaud deeming the art “our saving grace”.
“It can almost ignore our premise and our animal spirits,” Thiebaud said.
“It’s worth investing in as many deeply involved people as we can bring together because I think that’s where our hopes lie: in giving us a life of fun, challenge, comfort, joy – all of them. the things that make us human and able to relate lovingly to one another.
Thiebaud came to the fine arts after years of experience as a designer, including a brief stint at Walt Disney Studios as a teenager and commercial artist. His talent for drawing and his interest in advertising art have stuck with him.
In the 1950s, he began making oil paintings of baked goods and children’s toys to capture the “insistent reverie” they conjured up for him. Lush painted cupcakes and gumball machines brought back memories of her idyllic past. “I’m one of those lucky people who had a great childhood,” Thiebaud said in a 1995 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle.
His candy still lifes with their playful character at first seemed like a faux pas.
“When I painted those damn pies, I thought, ‘This is ridiculous, I’m a respectable painter, I can’t make pies,’” Thiebaud recalls in a 1985 interview with the San Jose Mercury. News. But the sensual beauty of the desserts turned out to be irresistible. “I couldn’t stop,” he said.
He later remembered thinking he had nothing to lose. He thought to himself, “No one’s going to watch these things anyway, so what the hell,” he said in a 2001 interview with The New York Times.
The fundamentals, notably the secret geometry of its compositions and the tactile beauty of its surfaces, have aroused the interest of art lovers. His first exhibition in New York, at the Allan Stone Gallery, was sold out.
“My first reaction to his paintings was, ‘This guy must be crazy,’” Stone said in a 2002 interview with CBS News. “They were just rows of pies and cakes, and silly looking.”
“After a while there was a kind of emphasis and integrity about them that was undeniable,” Stone said. After the first sold-out show in 1962, he continued to represent Thiebaud for over 40 years.
By the early 1960s, Thiebaud’s skill as a designer and his attraction to mass-produced items led to comparisons with pop artists. His pies had something in common with the beer cans of Jasper Johns and the giant burgers of Claes Oldenburg.
“Pop art was taking the art world by storm, and Thiebaud’s work was seen as a kind of West Coast counterpart to Warhol … and other New York popsters,” the reviewer wrote. art Alice Thorson in a 2003 article for the Kansas City Star.
Thiebaud argued that he was not interested, as pop artists were, in social criticism or tongue-in-cheek jokes. He wanted to do paintings drawing attention to “things that we have overlooked … those quiet corners of life,” he said in a 1986 interview with the Kansas City Star. Birthday cakes and ice cream cones are “very important but often don’t seem so in light of a busy electronics society,” he said.
Despite his protests, his name seems definitely attached to Pop in the 1960s. It wasn’t all bad luck. “Thiebaud’s still lifes in restaurants and deli made him misunderstand and rise to fame,” wrote critic Robert Hughes in a 1985 article for Time magazine.
The more Thiebaud continued to paint, the more critics agreed with him. He was on a different wavelength. The way he layered paint on canvas with vibrant strokes and played with variations in light were “the traditional activities of a realist painter,” Hughes wrote in 1985.
Thiebaud described his work as above all a dialogue with artists throughout history. “I see painting as having its own kind of tradition,” he said in a 1995 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. “One of commemoration, of layering, of trying to become as rich a source of human consciousness as possible. “
After a decade of painting still lifes, Thiebaud has added human figures to his repertoire. “Five Seated Figures”, a 1965 painting, is typical. Two women and three men are seated close to each other but are indifferent to each other. Comparisons with the art of the American realist painter Edward Hopper followed.
Some critics have suggested that the blank expressions on the faces in Thiebaud’s art forced attention to the technical aspects of his art. “We are beginning to realize that Thiebaud painted on art, especially realist art,” wrote critic Henry Seldis in a 1977 article for the Los Angeles Times. The detached expressions are reminiscent of the works of French realist painter Édouard Manet, Seldis wrote.
In the 1970s, Thiebaud became increasingly interested in landscapes and cityscapes, which he painted from a bird’s-eye perspective. In “Portero Hill,” a mid-1970s painting, he blurred freeways, hills, and buildings into a sheer vertical of color and light.
“There is a kind of unachievable quality about them that has to do with the desire for something beyond, something that I can never achieve,” Thiebaud said of his cityscapes in a 1995 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle.
At 80, Thiebaud was the subject of a retrospective exhibition that opened at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco and traveled to the Whitney Museum of Art in New York. The show confirmed what critics had grappled with for decades.
“Thiebaud has been an anomaly for so long that it doesn’t seem to matter anymore,” Hughes wrote in his review of the show for Time magazine in 2001.
Thiebaud was born November 15, 1920 in Mesa, Arizona, and moved to Long Beach with his parents as a child. He was attending Long Beach Polytechnic High School when he got serious about his interest in the cartoon. He worked briefly in the animation department at Walt Disney Studios, where a senior animator drew the first and last frames in a strip and Thiebaud drew the middle frames. He was fired after six months for his pro-union activities.
After graduating from high school, he joined the United States Army Air Force and worked as an artist and draftsman with the Special Services Department. He also worked in the Air Force Motion Picture Unit, based in Culver City.
Demobilized from the army, he became artistic director and designer for Rexall Drug Co. in Los Angeles. He quit work, returned to school, earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Cal State Sacramento in 1951, and a master’s degree two years later.
He taught at Sacramento City College in the 1950s and joined UC Davis faculty in 1960 and became professor emeritus in 1991. He later contributed more than 20 of his paintings to the school.
As his reputation grew, Thiebaud has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and many other museums.
His paintings are in the permanent collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, among others.
Thiebaud married Patricia Patterson in 1943. They had two children before divorcing in 1959. He then married Betty Jean Carr.
He is survived by his daughters, Twinka and Mallary Ann, from his first marriage, and a stepson, Matthew Bult, from his second marriage. Her son Paul from her second marriage died of colon cancer in 2010, and her stepson Mark Bult died in 2013.
Rourke is a former Times writer.