ALL the News about
Mormons, Mormonism
and the LDS Church
Mormon News: All the News about Mormons, Mormonism and the LDS Church
Posted 05 Aug 2001   For week ended August 03, 2001
Most Recent Week
Front Page
Local News
Arts & Entertainment
·New Products
·New Websites
·Mormon Stock Index
Letters to Editor
Continuing Coverage of:
Boston Temple
School Prayer
Julie on MTV
Robert Elmer Kleasen
About Mormon News
News by E-Mail
Weekly Summary
Submitting News
Submitting Press Releases
Volunteer Positions
Bad Link?

News about Mormons, Mormonism,
and the LDS Church

Sent on Mormon-News: 04Aug01

By Kent Larsen

NYC's Whitney Museum Exhibit's Retrospective on Mormon Artist

NEW YORK, NEW YORK -- One of New York City's most prestigious art museums, the Whitney Museum of Art, opened a major retrospective recently on Wayne Thiebaud, an Arizona native who grew up in a devout Mormon family. Over his career, Thiebaud has become a well-recognized artist whose reputation is ranked among the most important in Modern art and whose work is represented in major art books.

The exhibit, titled "Wayne Thiebaud: A Painting Retrospective" originated with the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, where it appeared last year at San Francisco's Legion of Honor. The New York City installation has been augmented from the collections of New York Museums and private collections on the East Coast. It is the largest exhibit ever of Thiebaud's work, and the first major exhibit on the East Coast since a 1962 show at Allen Stone's gallery.

Thiebaud is best known for his paintings of pies, gumball machines and other representations of everyday life. The choice of pies and gumball machines has sometimes led critics to label Thiebaud's work as pop art -- like that of Andy Warhol and Roy Liechtenstein. And while Thiebaud rejects that label, he is still considered one of the more important Modern artists.

Thiebaud was born November 15, 1920 to a devout Mormon family in Mesa, Arizona, but grew up in Southern California and Southern Utah, working at times on family farms. As a teenager his principle activity in the arts was designing sets and lighting for high school productions. But his interest in art picked up after he broke his back playing sports and he used his time while recuperating to take up cartooning. One biographer says that Thiebaud was able to draw Popeye simultaneously with both the left and right hands. With that skill he went to work briefly in the animation department of Walt Disney Studios, but was later fired when he tried to organize a labor union there.

In 1942, Thiebaud entered the US Air Force, but ended up painting murals for the Army instead of fighting in World War II, and was discharged in 1945. By 1947 he was gainfully employed as a commercial artist, working for Rexall Drug Company where he created an original comic strip for the company.

It wasn't until 1950 that Thiebaud decided to study art seriously. After a year at San Jose State University, he went to study at California State University at Sacramento, from which he graduated in 1953. Along the way he had his first art show, in 1951, at Sacramento's Crocker Art Gallery. Soon after, Thiebaud took the first of several extended trips to New York City, where he met and befriended Modernist painters such as Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline.

While de Kooning and Kline had their influence on Thiebaud, he never quite fit in with their abstract expressionist views, instead rejecting their taste for bombast and for grand tragic-historic themes for more modest subjects -- ribbon shops, pinball machines and, eventually, pies. "I had been put off by the churchy feeling of a lot of New York painting, and I saw de Kooning was too," Thiebaud told one interviewer. "He disabused me of it, and, as much as anyone, suggested to me that painting was a lot more important than art."

He then looked around for subjects that fit his views, "I'd worked in food preparation. So I'd always seen ... the way they line up food, sort of ritualistically, and I thought, 'Oh, I'll try that.' So I started painting these ovals for the plate and then put a triangle on it. And I mixed up a pumpkin color, maybe, I'd put it on and it was so far away from pumpkin color that I though, 'oh, I've got to put other colors in there." So I added blues and other colors to see if it could enliven it, but then I realized I'd painted this row of pies and started laughing and said, 'well, that's the end of me as a serious artist. Nobody's going to take this seriously.'"

But the reaction to Thiebaud's pies was just the opposite. The New York art world loved the pies, just at the time that it discovered Jasper Johns' flags and Warhol's soup cans, leading Thiebaud to be grouped with them as "pop artists." He dislikes that label, however, saying that his work is representational. Instead of making his subjects seem surreal, like Warhol or Johns, Thiebaud instead had a keen sense for seeing the surreal in everyday life -- the "goofy," odd nature of everyday "ritualism."

Theibaud returned to California where he soon got a position teaching at Sacramento City College. Ten years later he joined the faculty at the University of California, Davis, where he is still on the faculty as an emeritus professor. His long time residence in California has led some critics to call him a 'California' artist. But when asked by the Sacramento Bee about that label last year, Thiebaud rejected the label, "There are aspects of California in [my] work - the landscape of San Francisco and the Sacramento River. But the food things are not more California than elsewhere."

Likewise, given that he has left the LDS Church, Thiebaud would likely say that he is not a Mormon artist. But yet there are aspects of religion and Mormonism in the philosophy he uses in his art; modesty, simplicity and straightforwardness. Last year he told PBS' Newshour with Jim Lehrer that he doesn't really call himself an artist, saying, "Isn't it something for other people to make a decision about? I think it's just like, as I say, it's like a priest referring to himself as a saint. ... It's decided apart from you and that's the way it should be."

This modesty also appears in his subject matter, where Thiebaud prefers to work with modest, everyday things, realizing that "even though you're working with everyday things, modest subject matter, that doesn't have to be minor. Those kinds of things, I think, can mean a lot to us." As a result, he sticks with the things he has experience with: teaching, raising a family, having a good life. He looks at the ritual of the everyday, "I don't know what other cultures do, but in America, the preparation and ritual of banquets and ... Mormon picnics are fascinating. Every little American cafe or restaurant or cafeteria always says they have the best hamburger in the world. I don't know how they know that. So they paint these pictures of them with gigantic pieces of meat and lettuce. Big Boy!"

Thiebaud also rejects the use of irony in his work, instead preferring to show things in a straightforward way, "I've never trusted irony very much because it's very confusing. You never know where you are. It's like a big Jell-O or marshmallow world. It's hard to get a foothold. ... I don't usually think [paintings that use irony are] very effective." And he feels that simple objects are the subjects he does best, "People ask my why I don't do a nice pretty Viennese cake or spaghetti. I don't know anything about it. I'd have to be Jackson Pollock to do spaghetti."

The retrospective of Thiebaud's work has attracted a lot of media attention over the past year, since it first appeared in San Francisco. Major newspapers in San Francisco, Sacramento, Dallas, Washington DC and now New York have covered his work as the exhibit has gone on display in their areas, and the national PBS TV program the Newshour with Jim Lehrer also interviewed him. The exhibit is on display at the Whitney until September 23rd.


Wayne Thiebaud: Wistful Joy in Soda-Fountain Dreams
New York Times 29Jun01 A2
By Michael Kimmelman

Whitney Show Takes the Cake
New York Daily News 28Jun01 A2
By Celia McGee: Daily News Feature Writer
N.Y. embraces Western artist

Wayne Thiebaud: The Painter of Pies Knows the Real Thing, Too
New York Times 27Jun01 A2
By Regina Schrambling

Wayne Thiebaud: Still Generating Art Rooted in Respect for Painting
New York Times 2Jan01 A2
By Stephen Kinzer

Gotta Be Me
Dallas TX Observer 5Oct00 A2
By Christine Biederman
Through four decades of masterful painting, Wayne Thiebaud remains true to his vision

The Sad and Painful Truth of Thiebaud's Art 1Jul00 A2
By Tricia Dake

A Feast for the Eyes
PBS Newshour 30Jun00 A2
Interview by Elizabeth Farnsworth

Thiebaud Retrospective Captures Art's Paradoxes
San Francisco Chronicle pgC1 9Jun00 A2
By Kenneth Baker: Chronicle Art Critic

Curator turns detective to reel in the years
Sacramento CA Bee 4Jun00 A2
By Victoria Dalkey: Bee Art Correspondent

Thiebaud on Thiebaud
Sacramento CA Bee 4Jun00 A2
By Victoria Dalkey: Bee Art Correspondent
Sacramento's pre-eminent painter, Wayne Thiebaud, talks about his career and a major retrospective of his work

Whitney Museum of Art

Wayne Thiebaud
Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden

Wayne Thiebaud

Wayne Thiebaud


[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Wayne Thiebaud
More about "Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective" by Steven A. Nash, Adam Gopnik (Contributor), and Wayne Thiebaud at

Thiebaud Notecards
More about "Thiebaud Notecards: Twenty Assorted Notecards &Envelopes" by Wayne Thiebaud at

Thiebaud Journal
More about "Thiebaud Journal" by Wayne Thiebaud at

More about "O Beautiful for Spacious Skies" by Katharine Lee Bates, Illustrated by Wayne Thiebaud at

Wayne Thiebaud: Cityscapes
Crown Point Press

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information