“let them eat paint”

“Art is one of the dirtiest words in our language; it’s mucked up with all kinds of meanings. There’s the art of plumbing; there’s the art of almost anything that you can say.” [thiebaud]

wayne thiebaud has taught me so much about the role of art in my career. i was first introduced to his work by my drawing professor, ken stout, while in the bfa program at the university of arkansas at fayetteville. we took a class trip to texas to see an exhibit including his paint cans.

"two paint cans"
“two paint cans”

the personality of textured strokes, the application of paint/charcoal and the beautiful blunt color palette gave me a bit of an awakening. his skill is obvious. but what he does with that skill is phenomenal. “If you stare at an object, as you do when you paint, there is no point at which you stop learning things from it,” he states. as a creator, certain artists’ creations speak louder than others, depending on who you are and where your gifts lie.

"cheese slices"
“cheese slices”

in his past, thiebaud was a cartoonist, stage designer and a commercial designer. his experience with emotion, lighting and design made him easily relatable on a personal level.  “of course shadows are not black!” i thought. there is light within shadow, therefore, there is color. he uses rich purples and blues for shadows and adds a thin trim of orange to make it vibrate off of the platform. the shadow is just as important as the intended subject matter.

his paintings are not merely a literal representation of  a mundane object. one sees an item or setting and all the elements that make up that setting, so why not paint it in a way that best represents its personality? “A conscious decision to eliminate certain details and include selective bits of personal experiences or perceptual nuances, gives the painting more of a multi-dimension than when it is done directly as a visual recording. This results in a kind of abstraction… and thus avoids the pitfalls of mere decoration.” although his fame emerged in the mid 1960s, thiebaud is not considered a pop artist. he explores the formal possibilities of painting — experimenting with brushstrokes, color, composition, light and shadow. where warhol is jibing and ironic, thiebaud is “warm and gently comic, playing on a collective nostalgia just this side of sentimentality.” his thick application of paint made him the leader of the “let them eat paint” school of art. he is a very determined painter, pushing himself constantly.

this translates in his cakes, his still lifes, his landscapes and his cityscapes.

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although he does not really discuss emotion in his work, it is apparent. the cheery cakes that proudly sits alone. the long, stretching shadows that reach beyond the cityscapes. i enjoy the fact that his work has a melancholy feel if one so chooses to see it that way. his technique rises above all other things. and that is admirable.

since i was 20, i’ve dreamt of taking a class from him, maybe catching hold of his perception and intention (and magic). as much as i’ve studied and admired his work, i feel like i have learned an incredible amount. most importantly, he is my great inspiration.

“An artist has to train his responses more than other people do. He has to be as disciplined as a mathematician. Discipline is not a restriction but an aid to freedom. It prepares an artist to choose his own limitations…”


3 thoughts on ““let them eat paint”

  1. I’m a Thiebaud devotee, too, though I came to him later in life. Your description of blues and purples in shadows edged in orange is divine–in fact, it’s a righteous set of pigments I love to use together, too. Thanks for the ode to eating paint and the gallery collection of paintings that look good enough to eat.

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