United States • born in 1920

Biography and information

Wayne Thiebaud (born 15 November 1920) is an American painter known for his colourful works depicting commonplace objects — pies, lipsticks, paint cans, ice cream cones, pastries, and hot dogs — as well as his landscapes and figure paintings. Thiebaud is associated with the pop art style movement because of his interest in objects of mass culture, although his early works of the 1950–60’s period slightly predate the works of the classic pop artists. As a young man in Long Beach, he worked at a cafe named Mile High and Red Hot, where "Mile High" was ice cream and "Red Hot" was a hot dog. The painter uses heavy pigment and exaggerated colours to depict his subjects, his works always imply well exposed shadows.

Wayne’s biography has begun at a family of Mormons in Mesa, Arizona, United States. They moved to Long Beach, California when he was six months old. One summer during his high school years he apprenticed at Walt Disney Studios drawing "in-betweens" of Goofy, Pinocchio, and Jiminy Cricket. The next summer he studied at the Frank Wiggins Trade School in Los Angeles. From 1938 to 1949, he worked as a cartoonist and designer in California and New York. Afterwards, the painter served as an artist in the First Motion Picture Unit of the United States Army Air Forces.

In 1949, he enrolled at San Jose State College (now San Jose State University) before transferring to Sacramento State College (now California State University, Sacramento), where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1951 and a master's degree in 1952.

Thiebaud is averse to labels such as "fine art" versus "commercial art" and has described himself as "just an old-fashioned painter". He dislikes Andy Warhol's "flat" and "mechanical" paintings and does not count himself as a pop artist.

Subsequently he began teaching at Sacramento City College. In 1960, he became assistant professor at the University of California, Davis, where he remained through 1991 and influenced numerous art students. He continues to hold a Professor Emeritus title there. Thiebaud did not have much of a following among Conceptual artists because of his adherence to basically traditional disciplines, emphasis on hard work as a supplement to creativity, and love of realism. Occasionally, he gave pro bono lectures at U.C. Davis.

On a leave of absence during 1956–57, the artist spent time in New York City, where he was much influenced by his new friends Elaine, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, as well as by proto-pop artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. He then began a series of very small paintings based on images of food displayed in windows.

Returning to California, the artist pursued this subject matter and style, isolating triangles, circles, squares, etc. He also co-founded the Artists Cooperative gallery, now Artists Contemporary Gallery, and other cooperatives including Pond Farm, having been exposed to the concept of cooperatives in New York.

In 1960, the painter had his first solo show in San Francisco at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and shows in New York City at the Staempfli and Tanager galleries. These shows received little notice, but two years later, a 1962 Sidney Janis Gallery exhibition in New York officially launched Pop Art, bringing Thiebaud national recognition, although he disclaimed being anything other than a painter of illusionistic form.

In 1961, Thiebaud met and became friends with art dealer Allan Stone, who gave him his first "break." He was Thiebaud's dealer until his death in 2006. Stone said of Thiebaud, "I have had the pleasure of friendship with a complex and talented man, a terrific teacher and cook, the best raconteur in the west with a spin serve, and a great painter whose magical touch is exceeded only by his genuine modesty and humility. Thiebaud's dedication to painting and his pursuit of excellence inspire all who are lucky enough to come in contact with him. He is a very special man." After Stone's death, Wayne's son Paul LeBaron Thiebaud took over as the artist’s dealer. Paul was a successful art dealer in his own right and had eponymous galleries in Manhattan and San Francisco; he died on 19 June 2010.

In 1962, Thiebaud's work was included, along with Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Jim Dine, Phillip Hefferton, Joe Goode, Edward Ruscha, and Robert Dowd, in the historically important and ground-breaking "New Painting of Common Objects," curated by Walter Hopps at the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum at Pasadena). This exhibition is historically considered one of the first Pop Art exhibitions in America. These painters were part of a new movement, in a time of social unrest, which shocked America and the art world.

In 1963, he turned his life increasingly to figure work: wooden and rigid, with each detail sharply emphasized. In 1964, the artist made his first prints at Crown Point Press, and has continued to make prints throughout his career. In 1967, his work was shown at the Biennale Internationale.

Wayne has been married twice. With his first wife, Patricia Patterson, he had two children, one of whom is the model and writer Twinka Thiebaud. With his second wife, Betty Jean Carr, he had the son Paul and he also adopted Betty's son, Matthew.

In addition to pastries, Thiebaud has painted characters such as Mickey Mouse as well as landscapes, streetscapes, and cityscapes, which were influenced by the work of Richard Diebenkorn. His paintings such as Sunset Streets (1985) and Flatland River (1997) are noted for their hyper realism, and have been compared to Edward Hopper's work, another artist who was fascinated with mundane scenes from everyday American life.

On October 14, 1994, Thiebaud was presented with the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton. He also received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Art from the American Academy of Design in 2001. Thiebaud was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2010 at the California Museum, Sacramento, and in 2013, he was honoured with the California Art Award in recognition of his part in raising the prominence of California art around the world.