The Legacy of Wayne Thiebaud's Everyday Observations
In so many obituaries written about the great Wayne Thiebaud this week, the Northern California painter who recently passed away at the age of 101, there was this constant theme of painting the "everyday." Thiebaud was famous for his luscious paintings of cakes and desserts and candy, lumped into the Pop Art movement of the mid-century, a movement he didn't much care for. “Of course, you’re thankful when anyone ever calls you anything,” he once said, “But I never felt much a part of it. I must say I never really liked pop art very much.” Perhaps this was what made him such a California artist, or a particularly Northern California painter; he sort of existed on the periphery whilst still mightily contributing to the landscape of American art; an outsider who could be an insider. It's a legacy that is almost magical in a sense.
I always loved his city paintings, which seemed akin to his longtime friend Richard Diebenkorn, and his professor position at UC Davis was always a reminder of the rich and bountiful art history and influence of California's Sacramento Valley. There were angles in his works that were imaginative if not fantastical, sort of a dreamlike representations of the ebbs and flows of the San Francisco cityscape. But it was the way he painted, with a thickness and almost "like you can taste" it quality to the color. Those weren't just paintings of cakes; they were the embodiment of the joy of a quiet indulgence, a jubliation and childlike innocence in a world of angst amongst the Pop Art establishment.
Maybe that is also why he was such a pivotal aritst; he wasn't trying to be part of a particular movement of consumeristic critique, but showing us the mechanics of industrial creation. They were still-lifes, yes, but they moved off the canvas in a way that almost felt like the movement of an assembly line. He once said, "Commonplace objects are constantly changing... The pies, for example, we now see, are not going to be around forever. We are merely used to the idea that things do not change." Thiebaud was a constant in the art world for nearly 75 years, and now we have to get used to the fact that his endless studio practice will not be around forecer. Rest in peace to one of the great California painters. —Evan Pricco