Wayne Thiebaud is an American artist best known for colorful still lifes of consumer objects and edible treats of pies, cakes, candies, desserts and toys. Born in Mesa, Arizona to Mormon parents in 1920, Thiebaud began his career as a commercial artist in California. During high school, he apprenticed as a cartoonist at Walt Disney studios, where he drew “in betweens” of Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket and Goofy animations. He planned to work as a commercial illustrator, and from the years 1938-1949, he worked as a cartoonist and designer in New York and California, briefly drawing comic strips for the Air Force during World War II. Thiebaud studied at San Jose State College before transferring to Sacramento State College, where he earned his degree in 1951 and masters in 1952. He then taught art, adhering to traditional techniques and disciplines that emphasized hard work and love for realism. In the year 1956, Thiebaud traveled to New York and met Elaine and Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, as well as Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Thiebaud was in influenced by abstractionists, but did not associate with Abstract Expressionism, in favor of a figural style. Inspired by New York cooperatives, Thiebaud co-founded the Artists Cooperative Gallery, now Artists Contemporary Gallery.
Thiebaud is often grouped with Pop Art for his subject matter of commonplace items and objects of mass culture, but considered himself “just an old fashioned painter.” Working before the Pop movement in the 1950s and 1960s, Thiebaud’s focus on basic shapes, use of heavy pigments, outlined forms, and exaggerated vibrant colors influenced the later Pop artists. His renderings of everyday items, like pies and pastries, are what Thiebaud describes as interpretations of “Americanness,” and capture the American sensibility of mass culture. Thiebaud’s signature figural style is reminiscent of advertisements, and explores texture, light, color and composition. Thiebaud is also renowned for his landscapes, cityscapes, and paintings of icons such as Mickey Mouse.
Wayne Thiebaud is now based in San Francisco, California. His work has been included in important exhibitions, such as “New Painting of Common Objects” curated by Walter Hopps at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1962, along with artists Lichtenstein, Warhol, Jim Dine and Edward Ruscha. His work has been shown internationally, including at the 1967 Biennale Internationale, and resides permanent museum collections, such as the Whitney Museum, Hishhorn Museum, LACMA, and Smithsonism American Art Museum.