A Year: Day to Day Men: 15th of November

Flesh and Flowers of Thread

November 15, 1920 was the birthdate of American painter Wayne Thiebaud.

Born in Arizona, Wayne Thiebaud’s interest in art was inspired initially by cartoons and comic strips, such as George Herman’s “Krazy Kat”. As a teenager, he established himself as a cartoonist, working for a brief time as an animator for the Walt Disney Studios. Thiebaud also worked as a poster designer and a commercial artist both in California and New York.

Wayne Thiebaud’s formal art training was provided under the GI Bill at San Jose State College and the California State College in Sacramento. He received a teaching appointment at Sacramento Junior College in 1951, while still in graduate school, and has continued as a distinguished teacher for many years.

Thiebaud moved to New York, where he was in the midst of the Abstract Expressionist movement. He was particularly interested in work by Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, but fashioned his own approach to art, adapting the thick pigments used by the abstract expressionists to his own subjects and style. Having returned to California, by the early 1960s Thiebaud’s best-known works, colloquial paintings of food and consumer goods, had emerged in mature form.

Depictions of everyday items in American life—sandwiches, gum-ball machines, jukeboxes, toys, cafeteria-type foods, and cakes and pies—reflect a turn toward representational painting. These deadpan still life subjects are set against light backgrounds, often white, with the objects rendered in lush, shiny oil paints. The thick, insistent textures and the playful colors Thiebaud uses for his commonplace objects and their shadows challenged the perceptions of art subjects and meaning. These well-defined shadows, characteristic of advertisements, are almost always included in his work

Although his works are often classified as part of the American pop art movement because of his interest in objects of mass culture, Thiebaud also painted portraits, but even these retained his signature broad treatment of light and shadow, thick paint, and bright Kool-Aid colors.

In 1972, Thiebaud settled permanently in San Francisco and added paintings of the landscape and city views to his subject matter. Using the unique geography of the Bay Area for inspiration, Thiebaud’s landscapes are dramatic representations distinguished by forms plunging at breathtaking angles into or across space and rendered in bold patterns of color. His paintings such as the 1985 “Sunset Streets” and the 1997 “Flatland River” are noted for their hyper realism, and have been compared to Edward Hopper’s work, another artist who was fascinated with mundane scenes from everyday American life.

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