Wayne Thiebaud, painter of cakes and San Francisco cityscapes, dies at 101 | Painting

The American artist Wayne Thiebaud, whose luscious, colourful work of cakes and San Francisco cityscapes mixed sensuousness, nostalgia and a touch of melancholy, has died. He was 101.

His demise was confirmed in a press release on Sunday by his gallery, Acquavella, which didn’t say the place or when he died.

“Even at 101 years outdated, he nonetheless spent most days within the studio, pushed by, as he described along with his attribute humility, ‘this nearly neurotic fixation of making an attempt to be taught to color’,” the assertion stated.

Thiebaud was born in Mesa, Arizona, in 1920 and grew up in Sacramento, California. He began out as an animator for Walt Disney and labored as a poster designer and industrial artist in California and New York earlier than changing into a painter. He additionally was a longtime professor at the College of California, Davis. He retired in 1991 however continued instructing one class a yr.


Whereas some took his sizzling canine, bakery counters, gum ball machines and sweet apples to be examples of pop artwork, Thiebaud by no means thought of himself to be within the mildew of Andy Warhol and didn’t deal with his topics with the irony pop championed.

“After all, you’re grateful when anybody ever calls you something,” he stated. “However I by no means felt a lot an element of it. I need to say I by no means actually favored pop artwork very a lot.”

The actual topic, many critics stated, was paint and the act of portray itself: the shimmering colour and sensuous texture of thickly utilized paint. He laid on paint so closely that he typically carved his signature as an alternative of placing it on with the comb.

A visitor admires Cakes, a 1963 painting by Wayne Thiebaud, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.
A customer admires Cakes, a 1963 portray by Wayne Thiebaud, at the Nationwide Gallery of Artwork in Washington DC. {Photograph}: Robert Alexander/Getty Photos

“The oil paint is made to seem like meringue,” stated Marla Prather, a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Artwork in New York who helped arrange a 2001 retrospective. “And with the cakes, you get this nice sense of texture with the frosting. You simply need to step shut and lick it.”

Many of Thiebaud’s photographs had been outlined in neon pinks and blues that made the objects seem to glow. Shadows had been typically a wealthy blue.

“It’s joyful, whereas quite a bit of trendy artwork is angst-ridden,” Prather stated in 2001.

Thiebaud informed PBS’ NewsHour with Jim Lehrer in 2000 the topic of meals was “enjoyable and humorous, and that’s harmful within the artwork world, I believe.

“It’s a world that takes itself very severely, and of course, it’s a critical enterprise, however I believe additionally there’s room for wit and humor as a result of humor provides us, I believe, a way of perspective.”

Gum ball machines had been a favourite theme, he stated, as a result of “an enormous spherical globe is so lovely, and it’s actually a sort of orchestration of circles of every kind. However it’s additionally very sensuous, I believe, and it provides great alternatives for portray one thing like, nearly like a bouquet of flowers.”

In 2004, a New York Occasions author praised Thiebaud’s “wry imaginative and prescient of trendy consumerism” and stated: “Nobody did extra to reanimate the drained outdated style of nonetheless life portray within the final half century than did Mr Thiebaud along with his work of industrially regimented meals merchandise.”

Thiebaud curates paintings for SFMOMA’s collection in San Francisco, California in 2018.
Thiebaud curates work for SFMOMA’s assortment in San Francisco, California in 2018. {Photograph}: San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers/Getty Photos

Thiebaud informed PBS he most well-liked calling himself a painter, quite than an artist, as a result of “it’s like a priest referring to himself as a saint. Perhaps it’s slightly too early or he’s not the one to resolve that … Being an artist I believe is a really uncommon factor.”

Together with the sensuousness, there was typically an vacancy and melancholy reminiscent of Edward Hopper. He likened the sensation to the “shiny pathos” of a circus clown.


In panorama, his most well-known topic was San Francisco, whose steep hills he portrayed in a fantasy like manner, with spectacular angles and stark shadows.

“Initially, I painted proper on the streets, making an attempt to get some of the sort of drama I felt in regards to the metropolis and its vertiginous (dizzying) character,” he informed PBS.

“However that didn’t appear to work … The truth was one factor however the fantasy or the exploration of it was one other.”

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