California painter Wayne Thiebaud, who blurred the line between commercial art and fine art with deceptively ordinary still lifes of American staples like candy, chewing gum machines and ice cream cones, has died at the age of 101. The news was announced by his New York. gallery, Acquavella. Thiebaud launched his prolific seven-decade career in the early 1960s under the banner of Pop art, a label he resisted:, crafting from memory his evocations of childhood nostalgia. He also distinguishes his compositions from traditional realistic painting, giving his paintings an almost conceptual quality through their alluring compositions, striking colors, theatrical lighting and playful textures.
Born in 1920 in Mesa, Arizona to a baker mother and inventor father, Thiebaud spent his early years in Southern California and on his uncle’s ranch in Utah during the Great Depression. A budding designer, he worked as a plotter for Disney studios and painter of signs before enlisting in the Air Force, serving as an artist in the First Motion Picture Unit from 1942 to 1945. At the end of the decade he became interested in what –called fine art -, and graduated from what is now California State University, Sacramento, soon becoming an influential professor at the University of California, Davis , where he remained until 1991. During a trip to New York in the 1950s, he was influenced by the abstractions of Elaine and Willem de Kooning as well as the neo-Dadaism of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns , and learned to merge his business training with the experimental expressionism of the New York School. He quickly found his favorite subject – the mouth-watering desserts spotted behind the windows – but struggled to make a serious name for himself (one writer dubbed him “California’s hungriest artist”). His breakthrough came in 1962, when his longtime gallery owner Allan Stone first offered him a solo exhibition, and when Sidney Janis filled a rented window on West Fifty-Seventh Street with works by more than fifty artists. including Thiebaud, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Indiana, Tom Wesselmann and Andy Warhol. (Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, Philip Guston, and Adolph Gottlieb stepped out in protest.)
Anxious to categorize himself, Thiebaud quickly widened his palate, creating bodies of work devoted to the Californian delta, the vertiginous streets of San Francisco and the clowns, among other subjects. His work has been collected by major institutions around the world and has been the subject of numerous exhibitions in galleries and museums, including retrospectives at the Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco in 2000 and at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento last year. on the occasion of its centenary. The Morgan Library in New York mounted “Wayne Thiebaud: Draftsman,” which reviewed his works on paper, in 2018. Thiebaud continued to play tennis regularly and paint every day in his later years. “I consider myself to be a beginner,” he said. “Sometimes it’s all the joy. If you could just do it, there would be no point in doing it.