For over sixty years, Wayne Thiebaud painted pies, ice cream cones, hot dogs, lipsticks and other post-war Americana, themes that helped him become one of the most recognizable and beloved American artists. Thiebaud died on Christmas Day, aged 101. His gallery Aquavella has confirmed this, American media report.
Thiebaud was born in 1920 to a Mormon farming family in Arizona. Growing up during the Great Depression, he helped his father by milking cows, shooting deer, and planting vegetables. As an artist, Thiebaud was a relative late bloomer. He had been painting billboards and movie posters for years when he decided to become an artist in the mid-1950s.
His friend Willem de Kooning, the painter born in Rotterdam, advised Thiebaud to paint what he really wanted to paint, a subject with which he could occupy himself forever. His breakthrough came in 1962 with a sold-out exhibition of pie and cake paintings at New York’s Allan Stone Gallery. Since then, Thiebaud has painted a lot of meringue, whipped cream and cherry pies.
He is often counted among the pop art artists. But Thiebaud’s approach to the iconography of American life differed from that of peers like Andy Warhol: less criticism and satire, more nostalgia, joy and desire.
He also made use of abstract expressionist painting techniques. He applied the paint thickly with a palette knife. This resulted in canvases with apparently softly shiny ice cream, cloudy whipped cream or hard shiny sugar layers.
Wrote about his technique NRCcritic Janneke Wesseling in a discussion of a Thiebaud retrospective in Museum Voorlinden in 2018: “When Thiebaud paints, he is in fact icing cake. He is obsessed with ‘object transference’: that the paint resembles the substance of the image. The paintings have a strong tactile quality, but it is a tactility that is only for the eye.”
Thiebaud’s work has also often been compared to that of Edward Hopper, his compatriot who imbued snapshots of American life with pathos, and to that of Giorgio Morandi, the Italian still life painter.
Artnet News interviewed Thiebaud last year on the occasion of his hundredth birthday. The artist, who at the time still played tennis and painted regularly, was asked which cake he recommended as a remedy for the inconveniences of the corona pandemic. His answer: “I prefer to say: be careful about eating too many sweets, and watch your vegetables. Sugar is an enemy of good health.” Enjoy in moderation, was the advice of the centenarian.
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