when was wayne thiebaud born
Thiebaud has been associated with Pop Art, yet his early work slightly predates that of the classic pop artists, suggesting that he may in fact have had a great influence on the movement. His work possesses a nostalgic sentimentality that Pop Art traditionally lacks, and owes more to Thiebaud’s study of historical still life masters than to contemporary art movements. The true to life representation in his work marks him as a predecessor of photorealism. Thiebaud uses heavy pigment and exaggerated colors to depict his subjects, and the well-defined shadows characteristic of advertisements are almost always included. Objects are simplified into basic units, but appear varied using seemingly minimal means. Giorgio Morandi, whose contemplative, palpable and delicate works share many characteristics with those of Thiebaud, is commonly cited as an artistic influence.
From 1949 to 1950, Thiebaud studied at San Jose State University and, from 1950 to 1953, at California State University in Sacramento. He had his first solo exhibition at the Crocker Art Gallery, Sacramento, in 1951. From 1956 to 1957, the artist lived briefly in New York City, where he became close friends with the Abstract Expressionist Willem de Kooning. After teaching for nine years as a visiting professor at renowned universities around the country, he accepted a professorship at the University of California at Davis in 1960. 1962 marked the first exhibition of his work in New York, where he showed at the Allan Stone Gallery, as well as his first one-person museum show at the De Young Museum, San Francisco.
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.
Born in Arizona in 1920, Wayne Thiebaud’s interest in art was inspired initially by cartoons and comic strips such as George Herrman’s Krazy Kat. The teenage Thiebaud established himself as a cartoonist, working for a brief time as an animator for the Walt Disney studios and drawing a regular comic strip during a World War II stint in the Air Force. He also worked as a poster designer and commercial artist in both California and New York before deciding to become a painter. Thiebaud’s formal art training was provided under the GI Bill at San José State College and the California State College in Sacramento. Thiebaud received a teaching appointment at Sacramento Junior College in 1951, while still in graduate school, and has since enjoyed a long and distinguished teaching career.
In 1956, Thiebaud moved to New York, where he was in the midst of the Abstract Expressionist movement. He was particularly interested in work by Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, but fashioned his own approach to art, adapting the thick pigments used by the abstract expressionists to his own subjects and style. Having returned to California, by the early 1960s Thiebaud’s best-known works, colloquial paintings of food and consumer goods, had emerged in mature form. Depictions of everyday items in American life—sandwiches, gumball machines, jukeboxes, toys, cafeteria-type foods, and cakes and pies—reflect a turn toward representational painting. These deadpan still life subjects are set against light backgrounds, often white, with the objects rendered in lush, shiny oil paints. The thick, insistent textures and the playful colors Thiebaud uses for his commonplace objects and their enframing shadows challenge our perceptions of art subjects and meaning. They are still life paintings, but with a difference. Although his works are often classified as part of the American pop art movement, Thiebaud also painted portraits, but even these retained his signature broad treatment of light and shadow, thick paint, and bright Kool-Aid colors.
Thiebaud’s transition from commercial to fine art is an experience he shares with other post-war artists such as Willem de Kooning and Warhol. Speaking of his regard for commercial art and artists, he says, “Those wonderful people showed me what to do – sign painters, women’s fashion illustrators. There’s a lot of craft in it, and that’s admirable. They would tell you very quickly: ‘You’ve got to shape up! You can’t do that lettering like that!’ . So I’d go back and do it again, do it again, do it again.”
During high school, Thiebaud developed an interest in stage design and lighting. Between the ages of 15 and 18, he worked part-time designing posters for a movie theater. He also worked at a cafe in Long Beach named “Mile High and Red Hot,” where “Mile High” referred to an ice cream flavor and “Red Hot” to a hot dog. At 16, Thiebaud took a summer apprenticeship in the animation department of Walt Disney Studios. Here he drew thousands of individual frames of characters such as Goofy, Pinocchio, and Jiminy Cricket. The frames, which when shown in quick succession would give the impression of movement, were known as “in-betweens.”
There were no galleries to speak of in Sacramento in the 1950s, so Thiebaud exhibited wherever he could, in shops and restaurants, even in the concession booth of a drive-in theater. Impressed with the artists’ cooperatives he had observed in New York, he founded a cooperative gallery in Sacramento, now known as Artists Contemporary Gallery, and an artists’ retreat known as the Pond Farm. In 1958, Thiebaud and his wife Patricia divorced. Their daughter Twinka became a celebrated artist’s model, author and painter in her own right. Wayne Thiebaud later married filmmaker Betty Jean Carr, and adopted her son Matthew, who also became an artist. The couple had a second son, Paul, who became a noted art dealer and gallerist.
Council member Wayne Thiebaud presents the American Academy of Achievement’s Golden Plate Award to contemporary art phenomenon Jeff Koons at the 2014 International Achievement Summit in San Francisco.