Wayne Thiebaud, whose paintings were (almost) good enough to eat, dies at 101


Slices of pie arranged in neat rows, shiny candy apples, cherry sundaes on the edge of the cast iron – these are some of the most recognizable designs painted by Wayne Thiebaud, who died on Saturday, December 25 at the age of 101. . His death was confirmed in a statement from the Acquavella Gallery in New York.

Born in 1920 in Mesa, Arizona and raised in Sacramento, Calif., Thiebaud is arguably best known for his mouth-watering depictions of bakery counters, but his renderings of gumball machines, beach scenes, and the sloping streets of San Francisco are equally irresistible. Unlike some painters of his generation, Thiebaud began his career as a commercial artist, attending business school in Los Angeles and working as a designer, sign painter, and illustrator until the late 1940s.

Around the age of 30, he made a permanent shift towards the fine arts, earning a BA from San Jose State College and an MA from Sacramento State College. Thiebaud taught art for nearly three decades, first at Sacramento Junior College and then at the University of California at Davis.

An eclectic confluence of 20th century pictorial expressions, Thiebaud’s works did not belong to any single movement, instead embracing a unique visual language that sought the charm of everyday life. All of Thiebaud’s work is imbued with an American sensibility and tinged with tongue-in-cheek humor. He mastered the textures of frosting, meringue, and donut frosting in thick, rich brushstrokes that reveal the influence of abstract expressionism, but his works exude the alluring mystery of an Edward Hopper bar scene.

Thiebaud gave his paintings their distinctive shine through a technique he called “halation,” juxtaposing hot and cold colors to make objects pop. In a 2018 interview with the Morgan Library and Museum, he described discovering the process while painting a slice of pumpkin pie.

“I mixed a lot of what I thought was the color and put it on the triangle, and I was horrified,” Thiebaud recalls. “I did a light yellow design and then a blue design so I could distinguish the two different positions, and when I put the pumpkin mist on that color, the edges came out, and I thought, ‘eh well, that looks a little better, i’ll leave that in there.

“So I did this painting that looked like somebody else had done it, and I looked at it and I said, ‘Boy, if I paint this stuff, this will be the end of me as a serious artist, no one will ever watch anything. like that, ”he continued.

But look, they did, often with praise and fascination. In 1967, Thiebaud was selected to represent the United States at the São Paulo Biennale, and in 1994 he received the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on artists by the United States government. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art organized the first major study of his work in 1985, one of many exhibits in museums and galleries both locally and abroad. A traveling retrospective organized by the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, Wayne Thiebaud 100: Paintings, engravings and drawings, is currently on display at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas, until January 16, 2022.

“Wayne has led his life with passion and determination, inspired by his love for teaching, tennis and above all, making art,” explains the statement from the Acquavella gallery, which has worked with the artist since 2011. ” Even at 101, he still spent most of his days in the studio, driven by, as he described it with his characteristic humility, “that almost neurotic fixation of trying to learn to paint.”

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