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 festivalin Southern California.
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Metropolitan Museum of Art Director, Thomas P. Campbell, talks about the art of asking basic questions and of really looking at art.
Of interest, he refers to an Italian art professor, a passionate teacher, who reminded him that “all art was once contemporary” and implored him not to get caught up in art world jargon but rather to use his eyes, to really look, to ask basic questions and to try to *see* the art.