The Icing on the Cake: Selected Prints by Wayne Thiebaud
Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920) is one of the most popular American artists of the later twentieth century. His vivid still lifes of cakes and pies, of lollipops and lunch counters have become icons of American culture. A brilliant palette and luscious brushwork flavor his signature depictions of everyday objects as well as his less familiar landscape and figurative work.
Though best known for his richly painted canvases, Thiebaud also has created more than 130 editioned prints, primarily employing lithography and etching. He is intrigued by the re-use of images in various techniques. He exploits the intrinsic challenges of working in different media, of changes in scale and size, and distinctions between color and black and white. Thiebaud moves easily among painting, pastel, etching, and lithography, returning to motifs, sometimes years apart, to explore diverse formal problems. In the present exhibition gumball machines, lipsticks, bow ties, and cakes appear in sundry variations from distinct periods of the artist’s career. Thiebaud emphasizes the importance of the subtle differences that result in substantial changes. “When you change anything, you change everything.”
In the 1970s Thiebaud embarked on a series of urban images inspired by the steep hills and dramatic vistas of San Francisco. To represent the extreme verticality of the city he compressed space, distorted the plunging angles of the roadways, and exaggerated the precipices at the edge of the hills. He altered the scale of buildings to make them appear precariously perched on small bits of turf. The artist’s images of elevated highways represent a variation of these cityscapes, roller coaster-like freeways careening through swaths of dense urban build-up. Occasionally he isolates dramatic curves and ramps, suspending them in mid air to create striking asymmetrical designs.
Thiebaud’s painting oeuvre is recognized as among the major achievements in twentieth-century art. In addition he has created a distinguished body of prints that complement his investigation of traditional humanistic interests. His images of pastries and consumer products are like old friends, both recognizable and satisfying. His landscapes challenge the viewer’s orientation, cleverly intertwining the actual and the imaginary. Thiebaud has employed subtle variations in color, in size, and in scale, marrying his unique range of subjects to the formal concerns of the old masters. His graphic experimentation is testimony to the artist’s commitment to examine and to penetrate the fabric of the everyday world around us. The Corcoran Gallery of Art is pleased to celebrate Wayne Thiebaud’s eightieth birthday with this exhibition of the artist’s greatest prints.