Wayne Thiebaud

Raised in California (though born an Arizonan), experienced across a broad spectrum of artistic disciplines, and occasionally misunderstood (like all artists), near-centenarian Wayne Thiebaud has been a part of the American creative community since the former half of the 20th century. Though largely and understandably renowned for his excellent works within the painting discipline, Thiebaud’s background consists also of extensive illustration, animation, and print work, all of which would in some way contribute to the distinctive style which has long characterized the man’s extensive catalog.

Having worked for Walt Disney when the company’s film production group were still relative newcomers to the industry, Thiebaud’s internship ran concurrently with his trade school educational pursuits. Shortly thereafter, Wayne Thiebaud would embark upon a decade-long stretch working in the fields of sign painting and professional illustration. He even did his part during the war years, as his particular skillset was put to use within a motion picture military division. Though these years would go a long way towards developing Thiebaud’s artistic prowess and creative style, it was only after the multi-talented aspirant severed ties with commerce and embraced art (that ancient feud) that his own “voice” would come to be known and recognized.

Time spent studying in a formal capacity in San Jose and Sacramento, respectively, resulted in a reorienting of Thiebaud’s creative compass. A range of influences during this chapter of Thiebaud’s life would ultimately open his mind’s eye to the creative style for which he soon became culturally celebrated and professionally successful. He would also find himself teaching art (what else?) at both university and junior college levels, the former being UC, Davis and the latter Sacramento Junior College. This experience spanned about a quarter-century from 1951 to 1976 and ran alongside a large plurality of artistic adventures, as Thiebaud has demonstrated creative competence well outside of the painting realm. Sculpting, for instance, populates his résumé, along with stints in theatre production and sign painting.

Wayne Thiebaud Artwork

Often associated with the pop art movement, Wayne Thiebaud pre-dated said movement by some time. And, more to the point, Thiebaud’s work and artistic development came into their own quite independently of the cultural trends which ultimately gave rise to the pop art sensibilities of the 1960s. Of still greater importance is the subject matter with which Thiebaud engaged and from whose substance he gleaned inspiration.

Whereas pop art is intentionally, even aggressively, derivative of its subject matter, Thiebaud’s style was one capturing life in its purest and simplest form. Pop art is a reaction to the cultural juggernaut of mass consumerism. It seeks to provide clarity for the seemingly apparent, to arrest the psyche by way of showcasing the ordinary. Achieving this end is a matter of rendering facsimiles not of life itself but of other facsimiles. A copy of a copy sends, if properly channeled, a message quite distinctive from the original copy’s intended meaning.

Thiebaud, however, rendered works which borrowed their inspiration from the real, from the seemingly ordinary, from that which might otherwise be viewed as mundane. Not averse to heightening the real, Thiebaud leaned towards forceful application of color—to the point of saturation, at times—and careful arrangements from a compositional standpoint. The hyper-authentic result yielded by this approach is understandably mistaken for the successive works which sprang forth from the pop art era, but it is deserving of artistic distinction, in part for the sake of Thiebaud’s intention, and in the interest of proper categorization.

Over so long and productive a career, a broad assortment of Thiebaud’s prints exist for purchase and viewing. Given the artistic and historical significance these works represent, they should very much be of interest to both those within and outside the artistic community, though those within do not have an excuse should they mistakenly categorize his clearly distinctive work under the pop art label. Though a celebrated and worthy artistic style all its own, the genius of Thiebaud stands well removed from its rather specific parameters.

By virtue of seniority alone, Thiebaud is essentially an undeclared progenitor of late-20th century art, rather than a by-product of its more outspoken branches. In that respect, perhaps more so than any other, Thiebaud is as iconic in a paternal sense as is his work from a compositional perspective. And as for his longevity, that must be attributable to the energizing effects of continued cultural relevance. The sheer volume of output the man’s career yielded also bodes well for posterity. 

Learn more about Wayne Thiebaud and his available works by connecting with the team at Hamilton-Selway Fine Art today.