Thiebaud's illustrations look good enough to eat

January 05, 1993|By Chuck Myers | Chuck Myers,Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- Artist Wayne Thiebaud's inviting and fun-loving depictions of assorted cakes, pies and other counter-top confections would drive even the most ardent dieter over the edge.

From candy apples to neck ties, Mr. Thiebaud can breathe life into even the most mundane object with his colorful brand of art realism.

Today, 70 of his illustrations are highlighted in a display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American Art, celebrating almost 30 years of works-on-paper by the California artist.

The collection of Thiebaud prints dates to the 1960s and the heyday of the pop art movement. His food goods and everyday nonedible images serve as a testament to America's consumer culture; artwork that is fun and accessible -- a theme popularized pop's guru, Andy Warhol.

After he did a short stint as an animation assistant at the Disney Studios early on, Mr. Thiebaud's interest in fine art blossomed while serving as the art director and cartoonist for the Rexall Drug Co. in the late 1940s.

Everyday items, often seen in multiples, are done in a variety of graphic art techniques, mainly as watercolors and pastels over etchings, lithographs, linocuts and silkscreens.

There is a certain ever-present playfulness in his work.

The array of confection imagery on display invites the viewer's inner child to visually indulge in a delectable world of sugar cones crowned with double scoops of lime, lemon and raspberry sherbets, jars filled with flavored candy sticks and gum machines packed with their bounty of colorful gum balls.

His command of line and form serve to further enhance the illusions of firm and rich or soft and moist.

But Mr. Thiebaud's talents hardly stop at the dessert or candy counter.

The conformity of his subject matter, such as in his rows of bow ties, glossy silver bullet-like lipstick containers or ladies shoes, tends to make the works appear monotonous at first glance. Upon closer examination, each item of the composition becomes distinct, accented by colors, texture and luminosity.

While the majority of the works are straightforward still lifes, the display also exhibits Mr. Thiebaud's talents and interest with figurative and outdoor renderings.

A quiet elegance, with a hint of mystery, envelops one delicate depiction of a ballroom couple. In another, a seated girl in a bathing suit stares blankly out in wonderment with an ice cream cone in hand.

A selection of urban and rural landscapes provide aerial, bird's-eye perspectives of sharp, well-defined highway inclines and mountainsides.

The 72-year-old Arizona-born artist lives in Sacramento and continues to refine his craft with often sumptuous results.


What: "Vision and Revision: The Hand-Colored Prints of Wayne Thiebaud."

Where: National Museum of American Art, 8th and G streets, N.W., Washington.

When: Daily, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Through Feb. 15.

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