Working at the Museum often brings experiences that one would have never imagined. Sometimes ordinary, sometimes extraordinary.
Several months ago I received a call that a family planned to gather at Crystal Bridges in August to celebrate the 90th birthday of the family’s matriarch, and the family wished to arrange a special itinerary for the day. A fairly ordinary call. The caller then continued to share that the matriarch in question was the previous owner of Wayne Thiebaud’s Supine Woman now in Crystal Bridges’ collection. Extraordinary.
Recently I had the pleasure of hosting this lovely group at Crystal Bridges. Twenty family members traveled from all corners of the country—Florida, California, New York, Illinois, and others—to celebrate the birthday of their beloved mom and grandma (the most spry 90-year-old that I’ve met)! It was their first visit to Crystal Bridges and, for most, their first time in Arkansas.
Since Crystal Bridges opened on 11-11-11, Supine Woman has hung in the Twentieth Century Art Gallery among other works of its time by artists such as Warhol, Lichtenstein, Johns, Rauschenberg, Wesselman, and others. However, as we prepare for our upcoming exhibition State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now, many of these works have been temporarily stored in our vaults to make room for this large-scale exhibition.
You guessed it. Supine Woman was not scheduled to be on display during this family’s visit.
We made special arrangements, following Museum security and safety guidelines, for the family to visit the vault with our Registrar to view their beloved artwork. When the rolling rack was pulled out to reveal Supine Woman, the matriarch exclaimed “There she is!” It was a touching moment to see her and her children be completely consumed in seeing this old family friend. Family members told stories about it hanging in the master bedroom, where it was for 30 years, and jabbed at one family member for his careless play as a young boy that nearly damaged the work.
The matriarch and her late husband purchased Supine Woman from a gallery in 1964, one year after it was painted. Inspired by the unique look of Thiebaud’s work, the matriarch also took painting classes from the artist, and eventually commissioned Thiebaud to paint a portrait of her children. She shared important documents regarding the provenance of the work, such as conversation records and purchase documents. Among these jewels was the confirmation that the model for Supine Woman is Thiebaud’s daughter, Twinka Thiebaud.
Supine Woman happens to be among my favorite works in the Museum’s collection. I affectionately call it “Working Mother.” During a milestone birthday I celebrated this year, my family had an image of Supine Woman placed on my birthday cake. (The matriarch insisted on seeing a photo of Supine Woman on my cake!) From this point forward, Supine Woman will hold new meaning for me. I will not look at her without thinking about this extraordinary family who allowed me to step inside their story and a very special birthday celebration. Note: Crystal Bridges did not acquire Supine Woman directly from this family, the work was purchased at auction.
||This biography of a living person needs additional citations for verification. (May 2013) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)|
|Born||November 15, 1920
|Education||Sacramento State College
San Jose State College
|Known for||Painting, Printmaking|
|Movement||Pop Art, New Realism, Bay Area Figurative Movement|
|Awards||National Medal of Arts (1994)|
Wayne Thiebaud (born November 15, 1920) is an American painter widely known for his colorful works depicting commonplace objects—pies, lipsticks, paint cans, ice cream cones, pastries, and hot dogs—as well as for his landscapes and figure paintings. Thiebaud is associated with the Pop art movement because of his interest in objects of mass culture, although his early works, executed during the fifties and sixties, slightly predate the works of the classic pop artists. Thiebaud uses heavy pigment and exaggerated colors to depict his subjects, and the well-defined shadows characteristic of advertisements are almost always included in his work.
Early life and education
Thiebaud was born to Mormon parents in Mesa, Arizona, United States. His family moved to Long Beach, California when he was six months old. One summer during his high school years he apprenticed at Walt Disney Studios drawing “in-betweens” of Goofy, Pinocchio, and Jiminy Cricket at a rate of $14 a week. The next summer he studied at the Frank Wiggins Trade School in Los Angeles. From 1938 to 1949, he worked as a cartoonist and designer in California and New York. He served as an artist in the First Motion Picture Unit of the United States Army Air Forces from 1942 to 1945.
In 1949, he enrolled at San Jose State College (now San Jose State University) before transferring to Sacramento State College (now California State University, Sacramento), where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1951 and a master’s degree in 1952.
Thiebaud subsequently began teaching at Sacramento City College. In 1960, he became assistant professor at the University of California, Davis, where he remained through 1991 and influenced numerous art students. He continues to hold a Professor Emeritus title there. Thiebaud did not have much of a following among Conceptual artists because of his adherence to basically traditional disciplines, emphasis on hard work as a supplement to creativity, and love of realism. Occasionally, he gave pro bono lectures at U.C. Davis.
On a leave of absence during 1956–57, he spent time in New York City, where he became friends with Elaine and Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, and was much influenced by these abstractionists as well as by proto-pop artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. During this time, he began a series of very small paintings based on images of food displayed in windows, and he focused on their basic shapes.
Returning to California, he pursued this subject matter and style, isolating triangles, circles, squares, etc. He also co-founded the Artists Cooperative gallery, now Artists Contemporary Gallery, and other cooperatives including Pond Farm, having been exposed to the concept of cooperatives in New York.
In 1960, he had his first solo show in San Francisco at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and shows in New York City at the Staempfli and Tanager galleries. These shows received little notice, but two years later, a 1962 Sidney Janis Gallery exhibition in New York officially launched Pop Art, bringing Thiebaud national recognition, although he disclaimed being anything other than a painter of illusionistic form.
In 1961, Thiebaud met and became friends with art dealer Allan Stone (1932–2006), the man who gave him his first “break.” Stone was Thiebaud’s dealer until Stone’s death in 2006. Stone said of Thiebaud “I have had the pleasure of friendship with a complex and talented man, a terrific teacher and cook, the best raconteur in the west with a spin serve, and a great painter whose magical touch is exceeded only by his genuine modesty and humility. Thiebaud’s dedication to painting and his pursuit of excellence inspire all who are lucky enough to come in contact with him. He is a very special man.” After Stone’s death, Thiebaud’s son Paul Thiebaud (1960–2010) took over as his dealer. Paul Thiebaud was a successful art dealer in his own right and had eponymous galleries in Manhattan and San Francisco; he died June 19, 2010.
In 1962, Thiebaud’s work was included, along with Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Jim Dine, Phillip Hefferton, Joe Goode, Edward Ruscha, and Robert Dowd, in the historically important and ground-breaking “New Painting of Common Objects,” curated by Walter Hopps at the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena). This exhibition is historically considered one of the first Pop Art exhibitions in America. These painters were part of a new movement, in a time of social unrest, which shocked America and the art world.
In 1963, he turned increasingly to figure painting: wooden and rigid, with each detail sharply emphasized. In 1964, he made his first prints at Crown Point Press, and has continued to make prints throughout his career. In 1967, his work was shown at the Biennale Internationale.
Wayne Thiebaud has been married twice. With his first wife, Patricia Patterson, he produced two children, one of whom is the model and writer Twinka Thiebaud. With his second wife, Betty Jean Carr, he had a son, Paul LeBaron Thiebaud, who became an art dealer. He also adopted Betty’s son, Matthew.
Thiebaud is well known for his paintings of production line objects found in diners and cafeterias, such as pies and pastries. As a young man in Long Beach, he worked at a cafe named Mile High and Red Hot, where “Mile High” was ice cream and “Red Hot” was a hot dog.
He was associated with the Pop art painters because of his interest in objects of mass culture; however, his works, executed during the fifties and sixties, slightly predate the works of the classic pop artists, suggesting that Thiebaud may have had an influence on the movement. Thiebaud uses heavy pigment and exaggerated colors to depict his subjects, and the well-defined shadows characteristic of advertisements are almost always included in his work. Thiebaud is averse to labels such as “fine art” versus “commercial art” and has described himself as “just an old-fashioned painter”. He dislikes Andy Warhol‘s “flat” and “mechanical” paintings and does not count himself as a pop artist.
In addition to pastries, Thiebaud has painted characters such as Mickey Mouse as well as landscapes, streetscapes, and cityscapes, which were influenced by the work of Richard Diebenkorn. His paintings such as Sunset Streets (1985) and Flatland River (1997) 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.
Thiebaud is a voracious reader and is known for reading poetry to his students.
- 1961 Pies, Pies, Pies
- 1962 Around the Cake
- 1962 Bakery Counter
- 1962 Candy Counter
- 1963 Cakes
- 1963 Three Machines
- 1963 Girl with Ice Cream Cone
- 1964 Three Strawberry shakes
- 1964 Lipsticks
- 1964 Man Sitting – Back View
- 1964 Lemon Cake
- 1966 Powder With Puff
- 1968 Coloma Ridge
- 1970 Seven Suckers
- 1971 Four Cupcakes
- 1975 Shoe Rows
- 1977 24th Street Intersection
- 1981 Hill Street (Day City)
- 1987 Two Paint Cans
- 1993 Apartment View
- 1993 Coastline (California Arts Council specialty license plate)
- 1996 Farm Channel
- 1999 Reservoir
- 2002 Jolly Cones (Ice Cream Cones)
- 2008 Three Ice cream cones
- 2010 The Google 12th Birthday Cake
Thiebaud’s works are also in permanent collections at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento; Phoenix Art Museum. Nelson-Atkins Art Museum, Kansas City, Missouri; and many other institutions.
On October 14, 1994, Thiebaud was presented with the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton. He also received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Art from the American Academy of Design in 2001. Thiebaud was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2010 at the California Museum, Sacramento, and in 2013, he was honored with the California Art Award in recognition of his part in raising the prominence of California art around the world.
One of Thiebaud’s students from Sacramento City College was the artist Fritz Scholder (1937–2005), who went on to become a major influence in the direction of American Indian art through his instruction at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico (1964–1969). Mel Ramos, a painter and retired professor of art at California State University, East Bay, considers Thiebaud to be his mentor.
Back in the early ’60s, Wayne Thiebaud was painting scenes of California cornucopia — cream cakes, pies, candy apples — in a luscious, Pop Art, eat-me-now style. His thick, saturated brushstrokes and flair made him one of the most important painters of our time.
Despite his monumental presence in the art world, Thiebaud is still a bright light on the Davis campus. Though officially retired since 1991, he teaches one class each academic year. As much as anything, it keeps this professor emeritus of art on his creative toes.
“They keep you honest,” said Thiebaud about his students. “They ask tough questions and are wonderfully ironic.”
This quarter he is teaching ART 148, Theory and Criticism: Painting and Sculpture. Thiebaud has taught at Davis for 34 years and endures the incessant creak of classroom chairs in the Art Building.
After he finished a recent lecture on visual literacy, freshman Taylor Cox said, “I think it’s incredible to have him teaching a class on campus. It’s one thing to hear about art from a teacher, but it’s another thing to hear it from somebody who’s been hugely successfully in the world out there.”
At 84, Thiebaud’s energies — and humor — show no sign of flagging. He reads voraciously — poetry, especially. “There’s a close relationship between art and poetry.” He likes to paint every day and carries a little sketch notebook to draw in continually. And his busy schedule does not get in the way of a serious tennis passion. “You might say there’s a lot of spin in my game,” he joked.
His teaching philosophy is more straightforward. Sometimes described as a realist or formalist, Thiebaud is concerned that students are not learning the basics of drawing, painting and art itself. “I’m trying to get my students to focus on these fundamentals,” said Thiebaud. “Some might say it’s old-fashioned or prosaic,” but it is very important to their development as artists.
Whether it means drawing pencils or color and light, Thiebaud reminds his students that the “little questions mean a lot.” And it takes time and effort for emerging minds to understand the building blocks of art.
Thiebaud’s approach has won him wide recognition. His teaching talents and contributions, together with his artistic achievements, were honored in 1988 with the UC Davis Prize for Teaching and Scholarly Achievement. Thiebaud also has given a large number of his art works to campus galleries.
In his work, one finds the glorious, lush images of the everyday world.
A painter’s painter
Thiebaud began as a commercial artist and cartoon illustrator like many other artists of mid-20th Century America, including Andy Warhol. And like Warhol, Thiebaud became tied to Pop Art as he was creating images of popular American products like food, lipsticks and toys. Yet unlike many of his pop peers, Thiebaud was not interested in poking fun at the establishment. He is a painter’s painter, a real traditionalist who respects the fundamentals.
When he was in the Army during World War II, Thiebaud attended the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. He said a “dictator” of an art teacher operated the center, one who believed in the basics. One day the teacher asked if anyone knew how to correctly sharpen a drawing pencil. A student answered that he had just sharpened his drawing pencil in the mechanical sharpener.
The teacher proceeded to break five different pencils in two, asking the student each time to use a knife and light sandpaper to whittle the pencil into a longer, finer point — the kind, the teacher noted, that is best for drawing. “From that day on,” Thiebaud remembered, “that student knew how to sharpen a drawing pencil.”
Thiebaud urges his young artists to think deeply about elements such as color, composition, shapes, space and light. When it all works together, it is as if lightening strikes. When someone sits down to paint, he said, the goal is to “make something so ominous, so riveting, so compelling that it’ll make your pants fall off. It’s not easy. Most of us fail.”
Thiebaud said the content of a painting draws from three sources — our knowledge of the world we share, the world of art tradition and the world within oneself. A balance of these qualities is critical, he says, or “it gets out of whack.”
“We’re just not that interested in other people as ourselves. Sure, we have heroes and famous figures, but that’s something different. If one is too absorbed in themselves — as an artist, for example — then it lacks dimension,” Thiebaud said.
Take the concept of space. “Space in painting is an illusion,” said Thiebaud, describing how it can be used to maximum effect to distort and orientate perceptions. Picasso, he noted, was a master at achieving these illusions on canvas. “When you discover it, it’s like discovering the ‘zero,’ and there’s nothing there except what you make it.”
Thiebaud typically pokes fun at himself during a lecture. “Is this making any sense or am I boring you?” he asked his students, who quickly answered a collective “no.”
Said Thiebaud, “I like to see how students change during a course. If they really stick with it from the beginning, they get something out of the class at the end.”
Mass culture hungry
Growing up, Thiebaud was mostly interested in comics, cartoons, sports, ice cream and commercial art. At age 16 he found work drawing for Walt Disney Studios.
After his Army service, he tried to sell his cartoons in New York, but with little success. He pursued work in advertising, and between 1946 and 1949 held various commercial ad jobs in New York and Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, he kept painting, especially objects of mass culture like food, and with a realist style. A confessed chocolate lover, he welcomes boxes of See’s candies.
In 1949, Thiebaud took part in his first major museum exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum. In the decades since, he has exhibited major retrospectives in the Pasadena Museum of Art, the Phoenix Museum of Art, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others.
In recent years Thiebaud has produced paintings on the hilly cityscapes of San Francisco and the vast farmlands of the Sacramento Valley. He has lived in Sacramento since 1950.
At auction, his paintings command figures upwards of $2 million. Juxtapose this with the fact that when Thiebaud raised his family in Sacramento, he gave art lessons to the neighborhood kids. Imagine that.
With all that he has seen and done, Thiebaud exudes a Renaissance quality. He is not only interested in art, but about the world and how it reflects the artistic process. At the end of a recent class, he read a poem by Wallace Stevens.
In The Snow Man, published in 1921, Stevens dramatizes the action of a mind as it becomes one with the scene it perceives — much like a painter would in creating art work:
“One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow. …”
5;30 point in the video below the interviewer comments that one of his paintings sold for 1.7 million and he says this is another world and the interviewer says “and you are living in it.” Thiebaud responds, “Yes uncomfortably.” (This shows like Pascal and Schaeffer say about the mannishness of man. At the 6:40 point he says, “You are never really fully convinced of what you are doing which is part of the joy of it.” Interviewer comments, “That is what makes you keep trying.” Wayne responds, “Yeah you keep hoping.”
Wayne Thiebaud – CBS Sunday Morning
Uploaded on May 10, 2008
“If we don’t have a sense of humor, we lack a sense of perspective.
Notice at the 7:30 to 10:00 that he talks about a painting of the garden of eden and he refers to it as if it was heaven and when he is finished talking about it then the next painting he says, “We are back on earth.” In other words he does not think that the Eve pictured in the painting was a real person living in a real world!!!!
At the 25:30 point in the video below Wayne quotes Matisse, “When I started to paint I felt transported to a kind of paradise. In everyday life I was usually bored and vexed by the things that people were always telling me I must do. Starting to paint, I felt gloriously free, quiet and alone…I took fright, realizing that I could not turn back.”
At 51:00 he says “I could have been a contender.”
Uploaded on Feb 10, 2011
Acclaimed artist Wayne Thiebaud and San Francisco Chronicle art critic Kenneth Baker explore Thiebaud’s work. Thiebaud is Professor Emeritus of Art at UC Davis. [2/2011] [Arts and Music] [Show ID: 20498]
Article below by John Seed:
Veteran artist Wayne Thiebaud — who will turn 93 on November 15th — isn’t slowing down a bit. His current one-man show at the Paul Thiebaud Gallery, Memory Mountains, consists of 31 paintings and 17 works on paper and fills both floors of the gallery. The exhibition is, among other things, a tribute to Thiebaud’s dedication to his craft: several of the canvases on view have been heavily worked and re-worked for periods of up to ten years and some of the works date back to the 1960s.
Gallery Director Kelly Purcell chats with Wayne Thiebaud
Photo by Morgan Schlauffler
In a 2010 New York Times interview Thiebaud acknowledged that he often paints outdoors — to “fortify his focus” — while admitting that plein air painting did not allow him the flexibility that his imaginative approach to subject matter requires. “But with me,” he noted, “it’s about remembrance — sketching certain types of reflected patterns, different kinds of lighting, then conjuring it up with your memory and imagination.”
The Memory Mountains are a varied lot: towering ridges, city-topped buttes, and sandstone mesas, and all of them glow with the artist’s characteristic palette of rich complimentary colors. Even though each emanates from some kind of memory, the mountains have been stylized into hybrid forms that fuse the ridiculous with the sublime. When I recently spoke with him by telephone, Thiebaud told me that he thinks of memory as “one of nature’s pleasures” and the pleasure he took in conjuring up the various crags, boulders and cliffs in this exhibition is clearly evident in every image.
During my phone conversation with Mr. Thiebaud we spoke about his mountains, his artistic intentions and his work ethic.
John Seed in conversation with Wayne Thiebaud:
Photo by Matt Gonzalez
What can you tell me about the ideas behind your Memory Mountains?
The Memory Mountains offered me the opportunity to mix abstraction and representation: that is the origin of my main idea. The other idea was that the mountains came from some actual experience or place some time back in my life: from Arizona where I was born, from my time growing up in Utah and Southern California or from my later life in Northern California. Those places are the main sources of the memory material I worked with.
Laguna Rise, 2003-2012, oil on canvas, 24 x 35 7/8 in.
Were any of them painted outdoors, or do you conjure them entirely from memory?
That is exactly what I do. I have worked a lot from direct experience, but these were designed to try and do something else.
Essentially there were sort of three characteristics or aspects that I wanted to focus on: maybe I can explain them to you without boring you.
One was the idea of humor: how I can find a seriousness in mountains — which can be as sublime an idea as anything — but then go all the way to a kind of silliness or ridiculousness. I find it ridiculous how we name them: oh, things like “The Devil’s Woodpile.” Or we decide that we’re going to carve 40 and 50-foot high pictures of our presidents into them. And the other things that we do to the poor mountains: how we sort of cut our way through them or arbitrarily cut their tops off. Or how we mine them, cut all the trees off them; all these kinds of semi-ridiculous things.
Detail of Laguna Rise
There was the sort of opposite aspect of venerating them and having them be spiritual sources. That extreme — from the sublime to the silly — was something that interested me.
Another idea was the idea of position of mountains. We mostly see them — and almost have to see them — from afar, unless we are walking in them or hiking in them or driving in them. There is this tendency to see mountains pretty much in the distance and I just wondered what would happen if you tried to get them as close as possible. It seems that they are almost coming to overwhelm you: or that they seem somewhat ominous in their character.
Big Rock Mountain, 2004-12, oil on canvas, 54 x 54 in.
Yes, I noticed that some of the mountains are distinctly flattened: they are sort of in your face…
It is the loss of horizon which I think gives them a peculiar position. That interested me essentially because it was a sort of oppositional research that was helpful in establishing a more abstract potential.
The third aspect was that I had to have a kind of naïve omnipotence about making my own mountains. Not just painting mountains, but to really actually believe that I was forming the rocks, the sediments that the wind had blown, or other aspects of it. I was interested in that sense of a bas relief in addition to the painting. Those are some of the things that I tried my best to see if I could get some results from.
Yosemite Rock Ridge, 1975-1987, 2011-2013, oil on canvas, 36 x 36 in.
There are paintings in the show that go back to the 60s. You have been painting mountains for quite a while…
Yeah, I’m an old guy…
Green Hill Farms, 2008-2011, oil on canvas, 36 x 48 in.
What is your daily painting schedule like? You seem to have tremendous self-discipline.
You know, I didn’t go to art school John. I came up through the ranks of cartooning and illustration and graphic design: I have a lot of respect for the artists in those fields. I had that kind of apprenticeship where you are supposed to just work and you are obliged to not ignoble those traditions: the great traditions of the design and typography and decorative arts, the ideas of design and drawing.
Mountain Layers, 2010-11, oil on canvas, 36 x 24 in.
It must sometimes feel surprising to find yourself defined as a fine artist, having come from that kind of commercial art and design background.
And while it has been diminished somewhat that tradition is going to have to maintain itself and to re-invent itself continuously. There are very basic things that are not to be ignored, in my opinion.
Night Mesa, 2011-2013, oil on board, 24 x 24 in.
I need to pass that kind of thinking on to my students…
They (students) have a rather naïve idea about creativity and self-expression. Even though they don’t have a “self” yet they have these difficulties in coming to grips with the idea that they are going to have to work harder than they have even imagined in order to really distinguish themselves or to be sure not to insult the great tradition of something like painting.
Peak, 2013, oil on canvas, 35 7/8 x 48 in.
Have you read Nancy Boas’ book: David Park: A Painter’s Life? She tells a wonderful story about how as a young man Park attended a 1930 luncheon for the artist Henri Matisse. Matisse told the young artists attending the event: “Talk less. Work more.”
There is certainly is a lot of talk today.
Yes I have read it, and she interviewed me: we own some works by David. He was a great influence on people here — particularly Diebenkorn — who in turn influenced me. I’m obviously a very influenced painter and I delight in being so.
Rock Mesa, 2010, oil on board, 24 x 24 in.
When someone walks into your show, what do you hope they will grasp or enjoy about the paintings?
Well I hope first of all that they will smile quite a bit at the ridiculousness of some of the images and get some sort of pleasure out of it. That would be rewarding to me. Also I hope particularly that young painters and other artists would not feel that I have insulted the tradition.
Wayne Thiebaud: Memory Mountains
October 29 – December 21, 2013
Paul Thiebaud Gallery
645 Chestnut St., San Francisco