Sunday, September 26, 2010

Kindred Spirit: Wayne Thiebaud

“Cakes are glorious. They are like toys.”  -Wayne Thiebaud

Cakes, 1963
Pies, Pies, Pies, 1961
I would have liked to have dinner with Wayne Thiebaud.  Maybe desert, come to think of it. I would have liked to talk to him about his art. As an artist I would love to hear about the progression of his work.  I mean, how did the work evolve to include such detailed and luscious paintings of confections?  I have to wonder also, what kind of cook was he? (I was somewhat giddy to learn that he had worked in a café in his youth and enjoyed recreational cooking.) We never covered that in art history class.

I remember looking at these paintings during my school days and thinking “Why cakes?” Not a landscape, figure or portrait. I understood painters mimicked nature in their struggle to understand it. I understood that abstract expressionism was born out of that practice when Jackson Pollack exclaimed, “I am nature.”  But what is the greater meaning in painting desert?  What do we as artists and viewers gain from still life? What do these paintings tell about our natural desires?

That’s what I would ask him (over a glass of Vin Beato and a pastry) “Why did you want to paint cakes?”  I imagine Wayne Thiebaud, the optimist that I read he was, talking about what he loved about cake, about the display window in the café and his mother, Alice’s baking.  Still life is, very simply, the appreciation of a subject’s existence.  At first glance, we label the desert as what we know and recognize the way in which it looks like every other slice of pie we have ever seen.  Then we see in the texture of the paint what we remember as the experience of pie.  Gooey, sweet, fruity, flakey pie. I am glad that there is nothing else in these paintings to distract me from the delicious subject.  The only thing on the canvas to be compared with a slice of pie is another slice of pie. 

Perhaps for Wayne Theibaud and I, painting is a craft that, like cooking, revels in pleasure.  In this case, a fluffy, spongy pleasure slathered in butter cream.  

chai tea cupcakes with honey cream frosting

1 comment:

  1. Thiebaud is one of my favorite American artists. Nice post! Thank you!