San Francisco

Wayne Thiebaud

De Young Museum

VITAL STATISTICS: Artist, born in Mesa, Arizona, 1920, M.F.A.’s (two). Assistant Professor of Art, University of California in Davis. Has won various prizes. Resident of Sacramento, California. Remodelled house with swimming pool. Married, clean cut appearance, knowledgeable and pleasant disposition. Drives foreign car.

IMPORTANT PRIOR ONE-MAN EXHIBITIONS: Art Unlimited Gallery, San Francisco, Dec. 1961 (no sale). Alan Stone Gallery, New York, April 1962 (all works sold).

IMPORTANT BUYERS: Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, James Thrall Soby, Richard Brown Baker, Malcolm Weintraub, Philip Johnson, John Bransten, Philip Elhert, Gregory Kondos, and Max Kozloff.

LAYOUT, CURRENT EXHIBITION: Around 35 paintings in two rooms on about 270 feet of wall space under diffused natural daylight.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF CURRENT WORK: Oil on canvas, strip framing, overall sizes varying from ten to seventy inches, subject painted generally in literal scale in heightened naturalistic bright colour, background generally neutral and high key, cream or grey white, fatty alla prima surface impasto, discreetly revealed brushwork, minimized typographical detail, subject matter centered in background or candidly cropped at edges, subdued script signature in corners, brief descriptive titles.

SUBJECT MATTER OF CURRENT WORK: Pies, singly and in groups, sectioned and whole; layer cakes, singly and in groups, sectioned and whole; pie a-la-mode; ice cream sundaes in groups, soft drink syrup dispenser; delicatessen counter of confections, delicatessen counter of meats and cheeses; fresh meat counter; lunch counter with condiment bottles, hamburger and french, fries; hamburger singly; whole barbecued chickens; barbecued ribs; lollipops in various groups; slot machines, singly and in groups; pinball machines, singly and in groups.

CHARACTERISTICS OF PRIOR WORK: Loose, high key, figurative paintings, abstract impressionist technique. Typical subjects, children and/or dogs at sea shore, wave or waves. Commercial art of various types and animated films.

PRICES 1961: $175.00-$600.00

CURRENT PRICES: $150.00-$1200.00.

IMPORTANT REVIEWS: Alfred Frankenstein, San Francisco Chronicle, 1961: unclear feature review referred to painter as “hungriest artist in California”. Alexander Fried, San Francisco Examiner, Dec., 1961: no review, reproduction of painting of two half-layer cakes. Max Kozloff, The Nation, Spring, 1962: incisive, notably intelligent, laudatory, lengthy review, stating work contains a significant commentary on contemporary mass culture, a masterful union of form and content, new kind of still life, neither naturalism nor abstraction, has virtuosity of Manet or Morandi, concludes “it has enriched my inner and aesthetic life”. Thomas B. Hess, Art News, May, 1962: lively, interesting, laudatory review, sees work to contain significant commentary on current American culture, interesting relationship to certain historical paintings (i.e. relationship of lollipops and belly to Daumier’s lawyers and Crucifix), comments that “he preaches revulsion by isolating the American food habit”. Time, Spring, 1962: included artist in feature on new image art, referring to him as the creator of “a slice of cake school of art”. Life, Summer, 1962: same article as in Time, reworded, large color reproduction of painting of pieces of pies.

INTERESTING ASPECTS: The artist seems to fill a major vacancy in the swelling international ranks of artists bent on a certain high art from a selection of mass culture. This artist’s way of doing his job can be very entertaining (and exasperating) for one and all. The artist in the company of a few others of his general direction,* helps create a new dilemma and controversy, which doesn’t happen in a big way in the art world too often.

PUZZLING ASPECTS: How is it that this artist’s current work, which seems good in a variety of ways, appears to have come suddenly full blown from a background of thoroughly weak work? What is it about the artist’s work that stimulates Hess and Kozloff, who are unusually intelligent in certain areas, to make strange comparisons (i.e. painting qualities better than Diebenkorn, as good as Manet and Morandi?) Does the example of the artist’s achievement and sudden success mean there may be other openings in this general direction of painting to be determined, and then to be painted by the appropriate artist?

QUALITATIVE COMPARISONS: The artist’s paintings seem more successful with foodstuffs, rather than game machines. Among the foodstuffs, carbohydrate and starchy items seem superior to the protein, with the curious exception of the conspicuous success of hot dogs (not included in this exhibition.) Lollipops, for some reason, are the least successful sweets. Pies are the very best of all, even ahead of cakes. Curiously, pie a-la-mode seems less successful than cake wedges. In the area of games, slot machines seem superior to the pinball machines, but then pies and even cakes in groups turn out better than game machines in groups, which turn out best singly. Neither the smallest or the largest, but the medium size paintings are the best. The worst painting in the show is probably a group of pinball machines. Certainly the best in the show is the painting of a group of pie sections entitled PIES, 1961, (in the current exhibit, item #1.)

*The general direction referred to includes the work of artists from many states of the U.S.A. and other countries, such as: Jasper Johns, who paints flags, targets, arabic numbers, alphabet letters, etc.; Larry Rivers, (in certain cases) who paints Buicks rear view, cigarette labels, playing cards and French currency; James Dine, who paints rainbows, neckties, overcoats, etc.; Roy Lichtenstein, who paints household objects, cartoon characters (real and imaginary) and advertising images; Andy Warhol, who paints cans of soup, and various household and office appliances; Robert Rosenquist, who paints various billboard images in various juxtapositions; Claes Oldenberg, who paints fragments of trademark images; Robert Moskowitz, who paints window shades; Robert Indiana, who paints game emblems; Jack Wesley, who paints U.S. Post Office emblems; Martin Hoffman, who paints automobiles and license plates; Robert Dowd, who paints U.S. coins and American Express travellers checks; Phillip Hefferton, who paints U.S. currency; Billy Al Bengston, who paints hearts, iris, chevrons and motorcycle components; Edward Moses, who draws wallpaper; Leslie Kerr, who paints car doors, juxtaposed checker boards and frankfurters; Joe Goode, who paints milk and soft drink bottles; Ed Rucha, who paints words, signs and trademark images; Pedro Friedeberg, who paints tile walls; Konrad Klopsheck, who paints business machines, various spigots and sewing machines; R. E. Kitaj, who paints images of Elvis Presley promotion material; et al. (There is a rather limited relationship between subjects listed above and the breadth of what the aforementioned artists actually paint and/or draw.)

––Walter Hopps