Wayne Thiebaud Is Not a Pop Artist


Among the familiar Wayne Thiebaud paintings on display at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento—the still lifes of gumball machines and voluptuous bakery cakes, the brightly dressed, sober-faced figures, the San Francisco cityscapes with their daredevil inclines—was one mysterious picture, unlike anything else in the exhibition. It was a darkly comic painting of a man in a business suit hanging on for dear life from the limb of a leafless tree, his briefcase tossed on the grass below. A downtown city street loomed beyond the little park where this puzzling drama was playing out. Was the man trying to climb up or down? And why was he there? Thiebaud tries to explain: “Essentially, it’s about urban atmosphere, and the need to escape it.” But Man in Tree illustrates something else. Dated “1978-2010” on the wall label, it’s a testament to Thiebaud’s tireless pursuit of the challenge of painting—in this case, a 32-year run during which he started the picture, stopped and revisited it again and again, delving into its forms and colors, light and shadows, even when he felt as stuck as the man in the tree.

more from Cathleen McGuigan at Smithsonian here.