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Wayne Thiebaud: Works on Paper 1960 - 2000


The South Dakota Art Museum is presenting the work of American figurative painter and internationally known Californian artist Wayne Thiebaud. Wayne Thiebaud: Works on Paper 1960 - 2000 brings together 40 of the artist's collection of work. Each decade, as well as a variety of subject matter, is represented in this extraordinary exhibition. Wayne Thiebaud: Works on Paper 1960 ­ 2000 will be on view until August 14, 2005. (right: Wayne Thiebaud, Boston Cremes, 1969, acrylic & gouache over a color reproduction 14 7/8 x 20 inches. Art © Wayne Thiebaud/Licensed by VAGA. New York, NY)

Often associated with the so-called Pop Art movement of the 1960s, Wayne Thiebaud is perhaps best know for his wry yet carefully studied still lifes of commonplace objects, such as cakes, slices of pies, sandwiches, clothing and household goods. In addition to the popular and recognizable images of food and other consumer goods, Thiebaud's works cover a variety of themes ranging from the human figure to landscape and city views. His daringly geometric depictions of San Francisco, with their plunging hills and burgeoning high-rises, are conveyed in what some call Thiebaud's "California" style. With his signature use of intense light and vibrant colors, Thiebaud's works strike a delicate balance between representation and abstraction.


About the artist

Wayne Thiebaud was born in Arizona in 1920 and has spent most of his life in the Sacramento Valley in California. As a young man, he established himself as a cartoonist, drawing a regular comic strip during his World War II stint in Walt Disney studios. Thiebaud also spent time as a poster designer and commercial artist in both California and New York before eventually deciding to become a painter. His formal art training came under the GI Bill at San Jose State College and the California State College in Sacramento. Thiebaud received a teaching appointment at Sacramento Junior College in 1951 while still in graduate school, and has continued to teach, since 1960, at the University of California at Davis. His work can be found in the permanent collections of many of the country's finest museums, including the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.


Artistic development

In the 1950s, Wayne Thiebaud had developed a regional reputation by working with numerous exhibitions and artistic projects in and around San Francisco and Sacramento, and by the early 1960s his famous deadpan paintings of food and consumer goods began to emerge in their mature form. These depictions of middle-American, "blue collar" subjects such as sandwiches, gumball machines, cafeteria-type foods, toys, and paint cans led to Thiebaud's association, in the mind of the public, with the Pop Art movement.

Unlike much Pop Art, Thiebaud's still lifes do not attempt to satirize modern American consumer society. He approaches his subjects with reverence and nostalgia. The items shown-cakes, pies, neckties, sandwiches, toys, and other objects-were all "fragments of experience" rendered from Thiebaud's memory, and served as emotional links to various periods in his life. Other aspects of the Pop Art movement, like the practice of adopting commercial art styles and techniques, never appealed to Thiebaud. "I had too much respect for commercial artists. I appreciated how skilled they really are."

Wayne Thiebaud is also known for his interpretations of the San Francisco cityscape. Drawings such as Hill Street depict a San Francisco of exaggerated, plunging hills where buildings cling precariously to steeply sloping cliffs. The vertiginous streets and hills of Thiebaud's cityscapes often share space with busy, congested, and labyrinthine freeways. Thiebaud made many of these works, much like his still lifes, from memory, referring not to one single geographic spot but to the concept and feeling of San Francisco as a whole.

Thiebaud's body of work also includes studies of individual and grouped figures, drawn with the same intense lighting and rich colors as the still lifes. Recent drawings focus on the waterways and agricultural fields that define the landscape around the artist's home in the Sacramento Valley, and are all marked by a particularly intense combination of color and pattern.


Also being exhibited:

Ray Howlett: Sculptural Portals: Exploring Dichroic Color in Art is being exhibited through July 31, 2005.

"I consider making art to be a near perfect freedom, with creativity related to a divine exercise. I became liberated from the traditional contemporary art scene, experimented, and developed a completely different art form."

"I believe that visual art should provide something for the viewer that they subconsciously yearn for, so that when they see it manifested in front of them it rings a bell of truth. The satisfaction inside their soul gives them a fulfilling experience, so that art becomes something of value."

"My art includes the actual presence and also the suggestive presence of the human interacting between sanity, peace, and joy, using beauty and wondrous surprise as the catalyst. My sculpture can offer the experience of (not just illustrate) all these elements at the same time."

"I think of my sculpture as portals, windows into the 4th dimension. The sculptural shape is only something that holds an entrance ("Portal," as I like to say) into a mysterious world. What one sees inside my transparent sculpture is more important than the sculptural shape and size."


Paul Peterson is being exhibited through July 3, 2005

"In my paintings I hope to offer an experience of affirmed or echoed emotion through the orchestration of color and of rewarded exploration by subtly shifting perspectives and structuring not with a single, central focus, but within a stabilizing infrastructure distributing the focus all over the image. I like to maintain the dual sense of a painting as an illusion and as an object that is the result of the human hand working with various materials.

The most important lesson that painting has taught me is that we see in context. We see the same color differently in the company of different colors. We see shapes differently in the context of the colors on them, their textures or their relative size. We see and understand events and phenomena differently in the context of other events, points of view or preceding experience. As an artist, I share observations by presenting whole compositions, by creating context."

"Painting for me is a process of transcribing light and experience into chords of color with the subjectivity of any musician."


Tom Thorson is being exhibited through July 3, 2005

"I have lived in the state of South Dakota my entire life and my sense of attachment to the people, places and things of this area is very strong. My work concerns a keen interest in the observation of both internal and external realities. For me the painting surface should be a place where matter, mind and spirit meet. For the most part my painting is representational in nature, but, as of late, the people, places, and things have been appearing in increasingly abstract environments. Objects float through space. Gravity exists in the real world but not necessarily in the world of imagination or the spirit, and appears in painting only through the choices an artist makes. I make art because it gives my life meaning. It connects me to a larger inner world that I know I would not have access to if I were not making art. Painting is an attempt for me to understand myself and the world around me. Art pushes me and I respond by continually working so that I might better express myself as a painter. Art gives me a feeling of accomplishment, mastery and connection."


Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy:

and from the Web:

Wayne Thiebaud "The Painted World," 47 minutes, March 1, 2000, National Gallery of Art's Elson Lecture Series
Wayne Thiebaud converses with Kathan Brown, president, Crown Point Press, and Ruth Fine, curator of modern prints and drawings, National Gallery of Art, 57 minutes, June 8, 1997, National Gallery of Art's Conversations with Artists series
The Richard L. Nelson Gallery & The Fine Arts Collection web site features a panel discussion video that is available for download from its Archive section. The "You See: Manuel Neri, Wayne Thiebaud and William T. Wiley" panel discussion was held November 13, 2007 at the Studio Theatre at the Mondavi Center, UC Davis, Moderated by Michael Schwager, curator of the di Rosa Preserve.


TFAO also suggests these DVD or VHS videos:

Behind the Scenes with Wayne Thiebaud is a 30 minute 1992 video released by First Run Features based on a series by PBS. Follows American painter Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920) as he uses drawing to expand children's understanding of line from simple outline to its creation of volume, shape, feeling, and movement
Wayne Thiebaud: Line: 30 minutes 1992 "When is a line not a line? When it's volume, shape, movement, and feeling. At first glance, the lines in Wayne Thiebaud's drawing look simple. Gradually, the line becomes more complex as the linear structure of a portrait of an ice cream cone is revealed. Hosted by the comedy team Penn and Teller, this program is designed to instill creative and critical thinking skills in children through the exploration of the visual and performing arts."

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editor's notes rev 8/11/11

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