DescriptionWayne Thiebaud (b. 1920)
Blueberry Custard, 1961
Oil on canvas
18 x 24 inches (45.7 x 61.0 cm)
Signed and dated upper right: Thiebaud 61
Signed on the stretcher bar: Thiebaud
Collection of Russ Solomon, Tower Records, Sacramento, California.
Allan Stone Gallery, New York, "Wayne Thiebaud Recent Paintings," April 17-May 5, 1962;
Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Museum of Art, University of California, Davis, "Wayne Thiebaud 1958-1968," January 16-May 13, 2018, illus. pg 81.
This luscious canvas, showing slices of blueberry pie and custard pie arrayed on two shelves, stands out as a classic Wayne Thiebaud in subject and composition; no more iconic example could be found of the early work in which the artist found some of his most favored subjects and settled on a signature way of depicting them. It joins his trademark still lifes showing ice cream cones, cakes, gumball machines, slot machines and other humble, everyday objects made beautiful and mysterious by his distinctive treatment.
Blueberry Custard was painted in 1961, the year the artist met New York dealer Allan Stone, who would represent him until Stone died in 2006; the canvas was included in his first solo show with Stone, in April 1962. Reviewing the exhibition, critic Max Kozloff would write that, "By some alchemy ... Thiebaud does not seem to be working with oil paint at all, but with a substance composed of flour, albumen, butter and sugar." He had already shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and, in New York, at the well-respected Tanager and Staempfli galleries.
That same year, Thiebaud would gain widespread attention in exhibitions on both US coasts. New York dealer Sidney Janis included Thiebaud in his pioneering "International Exhibition of the New Realists," a survey of contemporary Pop art; he also appeared in "New Painting of Common Objects," organized by Walter Hopps at the Pasadena Art Museum, alongside peers including Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.
Despite this early association with Pop art, and an undeniable commonality in choosing everyday subject matter, Thiebaud insists that he is "not a card-carrying Pop artist." In fact, he would later look askance at the movement, saying that to him, "The movement was a fairly weak echo of really quite wonderful graphic designers and people in the field of commercial art. So, it was never anything very attractive to me."
Thiebaud had, in fact, early on aligned himself with designers, art directors, and commercial artists: he had been a Disney cartoonist as a teenage apprentice; he created movie posters for Universal Pictures; and he worked in the advertising department of Rexall Drugs. By contrast with the Pop artists, Thiebaud describes himself as "just an old-fashioned painter."
All the same, critics have picked up on complex notes in Thiebaud's compositions. "Though all dressed up as if for their own birthday party," critic Adam Gopnik wrote of two cakes in a Thiebaud composition, they seem "plaintive-longing." Writing of his desserts, critic John Yau would ask, "Isn't Thiebaud keenly attuned to the desire to eat ourselves into a stupor? ... Might we not see ourselves as being hedonistic gluttons?"
Thiebaud's early critical successes would only grow over the years, with museums such as New York's Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum extensively collecting his work. In 1994, Bill Clinton awarded him a National Medal of Arts.
Born in Mesa, Arizona, in 1920, Thiebaud grew up in Long Beach, California. After early work as a cartoonist and designer, he served as an artist in the US Army Air Forces. Several years after earning a master's degree in art history at Sacramento State College (now California State University, Sacramento), he would begin to teach art at the University of California, Davis, where he remained for three decades. He visited New York City on a leave of absence in 1956-57, befriending Willem and Elaine de Kooning and Franz Kline and spending time at the Abstract Expressionists' meeting place, the Cedar Tavern. He was also inspired by the work of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, but would later say that he was turned off by the "churchy feeling of a lot of New York painting."
He would soon take up figure painting, often depicting his wife, Betty Jean Carr, with whom he had a son, Paul Thiebaud, who became an art dealer. Inspired by fellow Californian Richard Diebenkorn, he would take up landscape painting in the late 1990s, creating paintings that show the landscapes of San Francisco and the Sacramento region, where he has lived for decades, often combining various perspectives in the same canvas; critic John Yau asserted that in these works, Thiebaud "reinvented Cubism."
More information about Wayne Thiebaud, also known as Thiebaud, Wayne, Thiebaud, Morton Wayne, .
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