Reflections on the Life and Death of Artist Wayne Thiebaud

Host Essay by Hedy Buzan

Wayne Thiebaud died on Christmas Day 2021 at the age of 101.

Thiebaud was one of the most important American artists of our generation. Mis-described as a “Pop Artist”, Thiebaud’s work was simultaneously accessible and deep, rooted in art history and slyly funny, idiosyncratic yet universal. His work, accessible in print and online but always best seen in person, was thick with glorious impasto and color nuance.

American in his subject matter – he famously painted still lifes of cakes and pies, but also archetypal figures and landscapes of the vertiginous hills of San Francisco and the rolling Sacramento Delta. Thiebaud was eclectic in his influences: there is as much Matisse, Daumier and Cezanne in his works as there is the influence of Hopper and Disney. Moreover, Thiebaud had a brilliant mind, as evidenced in this 1981 essay A Fellow Painter’s View of Georgio Morandi.

Thiebaud was always looking, looking, looking, and open to the new. This brief video by the Morgan Library gives some insight to his constant evolution as an artist (as well as a look at some of his great work).

At the end of his life he did a series of paintings of the most hackneyed subject in American art – clown paintings – and made them into a transcendental experience.

An exhibition of his work was shown last year at Laguna Art Museum. While Covid restrictions prevented a Slow Art Day there, my review for the local paper can be read here.

Moreover, Thiebaud the man was humble, approachable and kind.

You can see that in this video below where he takes a slow look at Rosa Bonheur’s “outstanding” painting, The Horse Fair.

Thiebaud had a second home in Laguna Beach and loaned and gave works to the local museum, as well as mentoring artists up to the final year of his life. He liked to work in the mornings, play tennis, take a nap and work again in the afternoons. He drew daily. He loved to teach and each of the three times I’ve heard him lecture he repeated the same anecdote:

“I love to ask students, especially beginning students one question: ‘Who is painting the painting – you or the painting?’ They invariably answer ‘I am painting the painting’ To which I say ‘Wrong answer! You need to follow the painting and see where it takes you.”

What wonderful words of advice, as regards painting and life. 

Hedy Buźan
Founding Host, Slow Art Day

Hedy Buzan is an artist and founding host of Slow Art Day. She also helped launch the Laguna Beach Sawdust Festival, an annual arts festival in Southern California. 

Slow Art Day is committed to publishing posts like this from our hosts around the world. Here are some tips.

Slow Art Good Enough to Eat

In April of 2020, Slow Art Day veteran Hedy Buzan co-ordinated an event inspired by Wayne Thiebaud’s edible-looking paintings of food.

Sent out as a ‘Super Challenge’ via Mailchimp, Hedy asked participants to make their own sketch of Thiebaud’s ‘Jolly Cones’ with colored or standard pencils. She also provided hints and step-by-step pictures of her own process, which we include below following Thiebaud’s original:

Wayne Thiebaud, ‘Jolly Cones‘, Oil on panel, c. 2002.
Gift from the Wayne Thiebaud Foundation to the Laguna Art Museum, 2013, Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.
Hedy Buzan, Slow Art Day drawing of Thiebaud’s ‘Jolly Cones’ #1
Hedy Buzan, Slow Art Day drawing of Thiebaud’s ‘Jolly Cones’ #2
Hedy Buzan, Slow Art Day drawing of Thiebaud’s ‘Jolly Cones’ #3

After they completed the challenge, participants were invited by Hedy to send images of their work alongside three observations from the exercise. Following the instructions, Hedy also included this helpful reminder:

Remember, we are not trying to make a perfect drawing but are using sketching to S L O W down and learn to look.

Hedy Buzan

The event had several asynchronous participants. One of them, Ellen Brundige, even captured a time-lapse video of her digital drawing, viewable here, the final result of which can be seen below:

Ellen Brundige, ‘Jolly Cones’ after Thiebaud, Slow Art Day challenge, 2020.
Source: Ellen Brundige Tumblr.

Hedy, who helped launch Slow Art Day in 2010, has previously collaborated with the Laguna Art Museum, where the original ‘Jolly Cones’ is exhibited. The Laguna Art Museum had to close this year due to the pandemic but Hedy hopes for further slow looking collaborations.

At Slow Art Day HQ, we have been impressed with the resourcefulness of all the hosts this year as they have found ways to connect people through art across virtual platforms. We love the fun spirit of Hedy Buzan’s challenge and look forward to more innovative Slow Art Day events from this pioneering artist in the future.

– Johanna and Ashley

Hedy Buzan: Focused on Diebenkorn for Slow Art Day

Hedy Buzan is the 2012 Slow Art Day host at the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach, California. A veteran Slow Art Day host and advisory board member, Hedy is a painter, printmaker, and adjunct instructor at Saddleback Community College.

Slow Art Day: Why are you hosting Slow Art Day?

Hedy: Slow Art Day is all about the artwork and the viewer’s reaction to it. Being an artist myself, I like to bring an artist’s perspective to the process.

Slow Art Day: Have you selected your artwork for Slow Art Day yet?
Hedy: We will be visiting the Richard Diebenkorn show at Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach, California. The plan is to look at five pieces—two large Ocean Park paintings, a miniature painting on a cigar box lid, an etching, and a collage—to discover how Diebenkorn explored similar formal interests in different media.

Slow Art Day: What is your favorite piece of art or one piece that has had a great affect on you?
Hedy: My favorite piece of art is Bathers by the River by Matisse. This is a painting he worked on over an eight-year span from 1909-1917.  I love how he integrated the languages of Cubism, Abstraction, and non-Western art traditions with his unique sensibility.

Slow Art Day: Tell us more about your Slow Art Day event.
Hedy:  Our Slow Art Day event will be late in the day and a bit truncated (3-5 PM) as I teach that day; however, I didn’t want to skip it. This will be my fourth Slow Art Day and my third time hosting. Each time participants leave raving about the great time they had, saying that they can’t wait until next year!

If you can, join Hedy at the Orange County Museum of Art this April 28, 2012.