Wayne Thiebaud wakes up early every day, works in his Sacramento studio until noon, takes time out for a game of doubles tennis, then he’s back in the studio at two.
Thiebaud will turn 99 on November 15th. He still likes to eat the pies, cakes and ice cream that he paints, but he’s had to modify his diet in recent years. “I now eat chocolate ice cream and water mixed up together.” he said. “It’s lighter.”
After teaching at Sacramento College for nine years, Thiebaud went on to teach at UC Davis from 1959 to 1991. Even after his official retirement, he voluntarily taught a few days a week and was awarded Professor Emeritus. He still mentors students in his studio, which he says is educational for him.
Wayne Thiebaud Mural Restoration in Sacramento
Wayne Thiebaud has lived and worked at his Sacramento home for forty-seven years. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District Headquarters (SMUD) building was completed in 1959, and so was the mural that Thiebaud was commissioned to create on two of the building’s walls.
The total restoration of the SMUD headquarters cost $72 million and took five years to complete. The mosaic mural had some missing tiles and needed some polishing and refinishing. Thiebaud’s signature is on the front wall’s lower right corner.
The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.
Wayne Thiebaud’s Patience and Process
Wayne Thiebaud’s early food paintings now garner as much as $8 million. His food paintings, with their frosting-like brush strokes, are what got him critical acclaim, but his portraits and mountain paintings are as rich in texture and color as his pieces of cake.
He sometimes reworks a painting, like Pineapple Tray, which he painted in 1972 and reworked in 1990 and 1992. He blames this compulsion on his early career as a commercial artist. “I still feel like I have an art director looking over my shoulder.” he said.
Thiebaud began printmaking at Crown Point Press in San Francisco in 1964. He uses etching and aquatint to create a sensual feel and quality that is unique to his work.
His paintings and prints of mountains are particularly fascinating because of the unusual perspective that he utilizes to represent them.
“There was the sort of opposite aspect of venerating them and having them be spiritual sources.” he said in a Huffington Post interview. “That extreme — from the sublime to the silly — was something that interested me.
Another idea was the idea of position of mountains. We mostly see them — and almost have to see them — from afar, unless we are walking in them or hiking in them or driving in them. There is this tendency to see mountains pretty much in the distance and I just wondered what would happen if you tried to get them as close as possible. It seems that they are almost coming to overwhelm you: or that they seem somewhat ominous in their character.”
Country City, available at VFA is an example of Thiebaud’s vision of an extreme view of a mountain, positioning it as close to a city as possible.
Thiebaud is still working on paintings and prints of mountains, but has also be working on what he says is a preoccupation that he’s had for the past three years: “I have about 45 bad paintings of clowns and six etchings.” he said, “I want to be able to paint any damn thing I want at any time, in any way that I want to do it.”
The Work of Wayne Thiebaud at VFA
Please contact us if you would like more information about Country City or any of the other fine work at VFA.
Daniel Kim. Go inside SMUD’s newly reopened historic headquarters building. The Sacramento Bee. August 26, 2019.
John Seed. Wayne Thiebaud: Memory Mountains.HuffPost. December 6, 2017.
Sam Whiting. Wayne Thiebaud, approaching 98, takes stock of the big picture. San Francisco Chronicle. September 26, 2018.
Hearne Pardee. Wayne Thiebaud with Hearne Pardee. The Brooklyn Rail. January, 2019.