food in the arts


WAYNE THIEBAUD/ ARTISTS 1900-2005/ MAIN ART film and food

literature and food

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 playing basketball.

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.

music and food
photography and food
Around the cake
Candy Apples
1967, watercolor on paper
15 1/4 by 20 1/4 in.
Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden, University of Nebraska-Lincoln,
Gift of Charles and Glenna Campbell, 1998

Lunch, from the book Delights
1964/ published 1965 Smithsonian American Art Museum

Fish, from the book Delights
1964/ published 1965 Smithsonian American Art Museum

Bacon and Eggs, from the book Delights
1964/ published 1965 Smithsonian American Art Museum