A painter of pop-art realism combined with a great respect for traditional methods and subject matter, Wayne Thiebaud is one of the most prominent of the Bay Area painters in California in the latter part of the 20th century. His reputation spread far beyond his own state.
In his painting, he focuses on the commonplace in a way that suggests irony and objective distance from his subjects. He also makes a point of keeping an independent distance from the New York art scene.
He was born in Mesa, Arizona, in 1920, and for one summer during his high school years he apprenticed at the Walt Disney Studio and then studied at an Los Angeles trade school the next summer. He earned a degree from Sacramento State College in 1941. From 1938 to 1949, he worked as a cartoonist and designer in California and New York and served as an artist in the United States Army.
In 1950, at the age of thirty, he enrolled in Sacramento State where he earned a Master’s Degree in 1952 and began teaching at Sacramento City College. In 1960, he became assistant professor at the University of California, Davis, where he remained through the 1970s and influenced numerous artist students. However, he did not have much following among Conceptualists because of his adherence to basically traditional disciplines, emphasis on hard work rather than creativity, and love of realism.
On a leave of absence, he spent time in New York City where he became friends with Willem De Kooning and Franz Kline and was much influenced by these abstractionists as well as Pop Artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. During this time, he began a series of very small paintings based on images of food displayed in windows, and he focused on their basic shapes.
Returning to California, he pursued this subject matter and style, isolating triangles, circles, squares, etc. He also co-founded the Artists Cooperative gallery, now Artists Contemporary Gallery, and other cooperatives including Pond Farm, having been exposed to the concept of cooperatives in New York.
Wayne Thiebaud had his first solo show in April 1962 in New York City at the Allan Stone Gallery. His first solo museum show was mounted in San Francisco at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in July 1962, and that same year in October, he was included in the group show, New Realists, at Sidney Janis Gallery, New York.
In 1963, he turned increasingly to figure painting, wooden and rigid with each detail sharply emphasized; in 1967 his work was shown at the Biennale Internationale, and in 1985, he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
From June to September 3, 2001, The California Palace of the Legion of Honor held a special 80th birthday commemorative exhibition titled: Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective.
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Tsujuimoto, Karen. Wayne Thiebaud. San Franciso Museum of Modern Art. Exhibition Catalogue 1985.