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Wayne Thiebaud

Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920, Mesa, AZ – d. 2021, Sacramento, CA) was a prominent painter and printmaker, who was often associated with Pop Art and the Bay Area Figurative movement. Interested in a formal approach to composition, he was best known for his imagery of food, everyday objects, portraits, cityscapes, and landscapes. He came of age during the Abstract Expressionist movement, incorporating thick pigments into his representational works, which were influenced by cartoons and comic strips. Although Thiebaud began doing prints with Crown Point Press in 1964, his earliest experimentation with printmaking dated back to 1948, when he made a Picasso-inspired self-portrait etching. Later in life, he produced important color woodcuts, etchings, lithographs, and silkscreens. He often made prints in conjunction with paintings and drawings, extending himself across all three media. Thiebaud found a “very special beauty or effectiveness” in printmaking, and dismissed traditional hierarchies within his artistic process.

Born in Mesa, Arizona, Thiebaud established himself as a cartoonist at a young age, working for a brief time as an animator for Walt Disney studios and drawing a regular comic strip during a World War II stint in the Air Force. He also worked as a poster designer and commercial artist in both California and New York before deciding to become a painter. He studied at San José State College and the California State College in Sacramento under the GI Bill. In 1956, Thiebaud moved to New York, where he was in the midst of the Abstract Expressionist movement.

In the early 1960s, he returned to California, having developed a style of colloquial, representational paintings of food and consumer goods. His treatment of light and shadow, thick paint, and bright, Kool-Aid colors became his signature style. Fueled by a staunch modernist belief that one could make art out of anything, the artist began painting displays of food, including rows of pies, gumball machines, and ice cream. The artist became fascinated by the challenge of portraying three-dimensional objects behind panes of glass using a two-dimensional medium. Thiebaud’s wide collection of billowing ice cream cones and fluffy cakes are the results of his efforts.

In 1966, Thiebaud added landscapes and city views to his subject matter. Though the artist was a San Francisco resident, he drew the soaring urban landscape by memory, resulting in dramatic compositions, exaggerated hills and a flattened perception of depth within his works.

Thiebaud has received numerous honors for his work, most notably the National Medal of Arts, presented to him by President Bill Clinton in a 1994 ceremony at the White House.

Thiebaud has been included in solo and group exhibitions at the Dallas Museum of Art, TX; Istituzione Galleria d’Arte Moderna di Bologna, Italy; Laguna Art Museum, CA; Morgan Library and Museum, NY; Museum of Modern Art, NY; Norton Simon Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; and Whitney Museum of American Art, NY, among others.

Thiebaud’s work is in numerous prominent museum collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL; Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH; Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville, AK; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence, RI; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; Fine Art Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA; San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, CA; San Francisco Arts Commission, San Francisco, CA; Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, DC; Tate Modern, London, UK; University of California, Berkeley Art Museum, Berkeley, CA; Walker Art Center, MN; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY and the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT.

In 2018, the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art published the most comprehensive monograph on Thiebaud’s works to date, and in 1985, the San Francisco Museum of Art published a catalogue in conjunction with a retrospective exhibition.
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