Wayne Thiebaud, painter of lush colors and textures, has passed away

LOS ANGELES – Artist Wayne Thiebaud, whose colorful and luscious paintings of cakes and San Francisco cityscapes combined sensuality, nostalgia and a hint of melancholy, has passed away. He was 101 years old.

His death was confirmed on Sunday in a statement by his Acquavella gallery.

Thiebaud died at his Sacramento home over Christmas, Eleanor Acquavella, one of the gallery’s co-owners, told The Associated Press on Monday. The cause of death was not immediately known.

“Even at 101, he spent most of his days in the studio, driven by, as he described it with his characteristic humility, ‘that almost neurotic fixation of trying to learn to paint,'” the gallery statement reads. .

The dean of Californian painters, Thiebaud (pronounced tee-bow) was inspired by his earlier career as a Disney host, sign painter and commercial artist.

While some viewed his hot dogs, bakery counters, gumball machines, and candy apples as examples of pop art, Thiebaud never saw himself as being in Andy Warhol’s mold, and he did not treat his subjects with the irony defended by the pop movement. .

“Of course you are thankful when someone calls you something,” he once said. “But I never felt really involved. I have to say that I never really liked pop art much.

The real subject, according to many critics, was the painting and the act of painting itself: the shimmering color and sultry texture of the paint applied in a thick layer.

He applied the paint so heavily that he often etched his signature into the paint instead of brushing it on.

“The oil painting is made to look like meringue,” said Marla Prather, curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, who helped organize a 2001 retrospective of the artist’s work. “And with the cakes, you get that great sense of texture with the frosting. You just want to walk up and lick it.

Many of his painted images were depicted in neon pinks and blues that made objects glow. The shadows were often a rich blue.

“It’s joyful, when a lot of modern art is distressed,” Prather said in an interview with The Associated Press in 2001.

Thiebaud told PBS’s “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” in 2000 that the subject of food was “fun and humorous, and it’s dangerous in the art world, I think. It’s a world that takes itself very seriously, and of course it’s a serious business, but I also think there is room for wit and humor because humor gives us , I think, a sense of perspective.

Gumball machines were a favorite theme, he said, because “a big round globe is so beautiful, and it’s really kind of an orchestration of circles of sorts. But it’s also very sensual, I think, and it offers wonderful opportunities to paint something like, almost like a bouquet of flowers.

In 2004, a New York Times writer praised his “tongue-in-cheek take on modern consumerism” and said, “No one has done more to revive the tired old genre of still life in the past half century that Mr. Thiebaud with his paintings of regulated food products.

Thiebaud told “NewsHour” that he preferred to call himself a painter rather than an artist, because “he is like a priest presenting himself as a saint. It may be a little too early or it is not. not him who decides that … I think that being an artist is a very rare thing.

Along with the sensuality, there was sometimes a void and a melancholy reminiscent of Edward Hopper. He likened the feeling to the “brilliant pathos” of a circus clown.

In landscape, his most famous subject was the city of San Francisco, whose steep hills he portrayed fantastically, with dramatic angles and crisp shadows.

“I originally painted on the streets, trying to get the kind of drama I felt about the city and its dizzying (dizzying) character,” he told NewsHour.

“But it didn’t seem to work… Reality was one thing but fantasy or exploration of it was another.”

Thiebaud was born in Mesa, Arizona, in 1920 and raised in Sacramento, California. He started as an animator for Walt Disney and went on to work as a poster designer and commercial artist in California and New York before becoming a painter.

He was also a longtime professor at the University of California at Davis. He officially retired in 1991, but continued to teach one class per year.


Former AP writer Polly Anderson contributed biographical information to this report.

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