February 2001: WAYNE THIEBAUD

by Robert Sievert


Wayne Thiebaurd: Reservoir (1999)

Now on view at the Phillips Collection in Washington DC and soon to be in New York is a retrospective of Wayne Thiebaud. There are some truly remarkable pictures in this collection. In a series of landscapes Thiebaud pictures the California Hills around his native San Francisco as a series of flattened planes pushed up against each other in the most dramatic manner.

Nothing in the early work of Wayne Thiebaud prepares you for the dizzying advances in his later landscapes. Thiebaud spent his early years painting the sugary side of life in a rather banal but straightforward presentation. His paintings of pies and deli cases have a definitive sense of rendering. They sit squarely in their spaces and are barely more than what seems to be a scaffold for his indulgence in rendering sweets and eats in absolutely sugary color..

Worse yet are his figures of women in Bikinis. The rendering in steely outlines of contrasting colors seem to suck the very life out of these figures. They seem to be more manikins than live women. It is as if the artist was deliberately dehumanizing the images in pursuit of a sense of style. Fortunately they are not too many of these figures.

Then as if by divine intervention the artist turns his attention to landscape. Somewhere in the late seventies, when the pop phenomena is ebbing Thiebaud begins a series of landscapes that to this viewer seems unprecedented. Using the vertical pile up of space peculiar to the San Francisco hills as his subject or inspiration he creates some of the most startling paintings in the American vernacular.

I have trouble with his color. It is in the light of neon: heated and muted at the same time. While it seems glaring in the early work the effect is much better in the later landscapes where it takes a more naturalistic turn.

Part of what makes these landscapes so exciting is their exquisite formality. The spatial divisions of his canvasses and the their use of overhead viewpoints, sunlight and shadow combine into truly exciting work.

His most recent work will be on view at the Allan Stone Gallery May 3 thru July 12.


  Copyright © Robert Sievert 2001