Wayne Thiebaud, one of the most prolific Pop Artists of the 21st century, died on Saturday at his home in Sacramento CA.
Thiebaud was born on Nov. 15, 1920, in Mesa, Ariz. His maternal grandmother was one of the original Mormon settlers in Utah during the mid-19th century. An inventor, his father moved the family to Long Beach, Calif., when Wayne was a baby. With the Depression the family moved back to Utah to take up farming.
Mr. Thiebaud described spending his childhood milking cows, shooting deer for meat and planting alfalfa. His uncle, Jess, an amateur cartoonist, would amuse him by drawing; he attributed that experience, along with reading cartoons, to his early interest in art.
He would later give up on Mormonism, and on farming and life in Utah, but the scenery stayed with him. In later years, Mr. Thiebaud painted incandescent, slightly antic landscapes, almost abstract grids of imaginary fields and rivers seen as if from a bird’s perspective. These were based on memories from childhood, filtered through the study of Chinese painting and Monet, then mashed up with real views of the Sacramento Valley, where Mr. Thiebaud eventually settled.
Poetic scenes, ingeniously colored, they could appear as complex as his pies looked straightforward. In pictures like these, Mr. Thiebaud became a purveyor not just of Western sights, but also of Western light, Western silences and Western spaces.
He studied commercial art in high school, wrangled odd jobs as a sign painter and cartoonist, worked briefly as an apprentice animator at the Disney studios (as a lark, he had trained himself to draw Popeye with both hands at the same time, which helped him get the gig), and devised movie poster illustrations.
In the Army during World War II he worked as an illustrator for an Air Corps newspaper, then landed a job after the war drawing a comic strip for an in-house magazine of the Rexall Drug Company in Los Angeles, where a co-worker, Robert Mallery, encouraged him to think seriously about painting as a career.
By the early 1960s he began exhibiting his “dessert” paintings at the Allan Stone Gallery in New York, which were his most famous works throughout his long career.
Primarily, what I’m interested in and always have been is this wonderful, personally involving search to find out all I can about painting… and find out how my feelings and experiences as a boy growing up in American can be reflected in a painting.
“It has never ceased to thrill and amaze me
the magic of what happens when you put one bit of paint next to another.
I wake up every morning and paint. I’ll be damned but I just can’t stop.”
Wayne Thiebaud was 101.
(Images, Wayne Thiebaud/Aquavella Gallery; via NY Times)