One of the great things about studying Pop Art is that many of its painters are still alive. Whether you're talking Lichtenstein or Indiana or Claes Oldenburg (yes, he painted too), they have all taken their five years of Pop Art fame, built on it, and moved on. One of the more interesting of these, and perhaps more under-rated than most, is Wayne Thiebaud. It's hard to say why, but just maybe it's because, while the others were New York artists, Thiebaud is West Coast born and bred. Actually he was born in Mesa, Arizona, in 1920, but close enough. And though he flirted with the New York art scene for a time in the 1950s, everything about him and his art almost literally screams California! This former art teacher, former Disney animator, former Universal Studios illustrator, and former Rexall Drug chain artist is more Californian than prunes or palm trees.
Just looking at Thiebaud's 60's Pop creations will make you gain ten pounds. His work is like Edward Hopper gone mad in a deli bakery. Indeed, Thiebaud claims a great deal of affinity with Hopper. Hopper's paint, his style, his cold, dismal calculation, yet hot colour environment, is Thiebaud's most noticeable influence. But there is also the spirit of Chardin inhabiting his luscious cupcakes and bundt confections. There is David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, the rich, expressionistic colours of Rockwell Kent, and even Balthus haunting his work as well. Thiebaud considers himself a cartoonist that learned to paint. Indeed, in his early years, he lived in a YMCA where he drew cartoons six days a week, then took off every Wednesday to make the rounds of New York magazines hawking his work. Even now he considers his work caricature--not in the usual sense of drawing recognisable faces of celebrities, but caricatures of things. And still today, just as with his Pop Art, he's especially fond of food. Yeah, ain't we all.
Thiebaud was raised a Mormon, on a farm that raised food. He milked cows, rode horses, fed the chickens, plowed the fields, planted the corn, potatoes, and beans; and in his "spare time" played with art--little projects his mother made up for him. He was sixteen before he began to seriously study art, but it was his work in restaurants as a teenager that may have had more to do with his art than what he learned in school; especially since he had no formal art instruction after high school. He learned on the job, drawing John Wayne, Marlene Dietrich, and presumably Mickey Mouse. Today, mixed amongst the hot dogs and hors d'oeuvres, are cockeyed views of the city, often seen from above, where thoroughfares tangle like spaghetti, incline like roller coasters, and swirl downward like children's slides. At first glance, they seem non-representational, except perhaps to Californians, use to peering down through TV lenses from helicopters watching traffic or high-speed freeway chases. Still dapper, even preppy, at 79 years of age, Thiebaud enjoys tennis as much as painting (and still the art teacher), he likes talking about art more than either one.