Wayne Thiebaud, born in Mesa, Arizona, spent
the first ten years of his life in Long Beach, California. An
uncle who was a cartoonist, helped him develop a lifelong interest in
the cartoon as an art form, and many of his mature paintings carry forth
a sense of caricature. While still in high school, Thiebaud took a
commercial art course at a local trade school. Later, a brief stint at
Walt Disney Studios led to freelance work doing cartoons, designing
brochures and painting signs. He attended junior college for a year but
found he had no real calling for academic studies.
During World War II, Thiebaud served in
the United States Air Force, first as a cartoonist for a base newspaper
and later as a map and model maker for the Air Force Motion Picture Unit.
His commanding officer there was Ronald Reagan, with whom he remembers
After his discharge in 1945, Thiebaud
decided to concentrate on commercial art. His clients included the
Rexall Drug Company, where he met sculptor Robert Mallary, who was to
become his mentor and lifelong friend. ' He gave me my first
tough criticism and told me what it was to be a serious painter, i.e.
how hard you had to work and how much you had to know.'
Thiebaud taught at Sacramento City
College and later at the University of California, Davis as a professor
of art for over twenty-five years. The
food paintings were a vehicle for Thiebaud to reapproach basic formal
concerns, to focus on three rudimentary shapes: the rectangle, the
triangle and the circle or ellipse.
Whereas Warhol documented
standardization, Thiebaud explored the ideas of repetition and
variation--the duality between the conceptual notion of conformity in
the rows of pies and what is actually perceived. Conceptually, the
serial format suggests uniformity and predictability. In reality, each
slice of pie can be perceived as slightly different; one slice is more
squat than another, the meringue of one pie is fluffier than its twin.
The juxtaposition of similarities and dissimilarities and the ability to
discriminate between the two fascinated Thiebaud. By focusing on their banalities he pushes them
in the direction opposite to the familiar. In his still lives,
mediocrity is raised to a level of significance. It is a familiar vision
without any of the dullness that familiarity brings.