Saturday 20 November 2010

Wayne Thiebaud (cakes)

One of my favourite contemporary painters is the Californian artist Wayne Thiebaud (born 1920). He came to prominence in the 1960’s on the back of the of the Pop Art movement, though he himself does not consider himself a Pop Artist. His painting does not critique American culture so much as celebrate it, and his brushwork is more individual and expressive than the flat, mechanized style favored by Pop artists such as Andy Warhol and James Rosenquist.

Thiebaud is best known for his iconic still-lifes foods and products, such as cakes, pies, sandwiches, cosmetics, and toys. He is also celebrated for his vertiginous San Francisco cityscapes and his richly hued views of Northern California. Because his subject matter varies in this way I’m actually going to put up three successive posts on his work featuring cakes, landscapes, and cityscapes.

Personally my favourites are his landscapes, often painted as if seen from an aeroplane, they feature sinuous rivers, lakes and crop patterns, all rendered in his delicious ice-cream palette. The first post shows his cakes (and the odd hot dog or sweet), painted in his typically sensuous, impasto brushwork, and again the delicious colours making the cakes seem both tangible and edible.

Born in Arizona, Thiebaud moved to California in his youth. A student of commercial art, he spent several years as a professional cartoonist at the Walt Disney Studios and elsewhere before moving on to teach art. Thiebaud's knowledge of and respect for commercial illustration greatly informed his subsequent work, which is marked by its formal geometric order and clearly defined forms. After briefly working in the dominant abstract expressionist style, Thiebaud settled on realism as his primary mode of expression in the mid-1950s.

In 1960, Thiebaud began teaching at the University of California at Davis. His paintings of consumer goods from this time are iconic and notable for their sensuous paint and fat brushwork. According to Steven Nash in Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective, "this signature style of Thiebaud's paint handling—the rich, smooth dragging of paint across a surface or around a shape … often transforms itself into the very material being depicted, from frosting or whipped cream to metal—is referred to by the artist as ‘object transference’."

Wayne Thiebaud is a recipient of the National Medal of Arts and a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. In 2001, he was honored with a retrospective and monograph organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco's Legion of Honor. The show to traveled to the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C, and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas. His work is held by major museums in the United States and abroad.

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