What's it all about?

Exhibit Overview

Wayne Thiebaud: 70 Years of Painting was a survey of this major American painter’s work. The show traced the development of Thiebaud’s signature style, but also included some of his lesser known figural and beach paintings.

Wayne Thiebaud’s recent series of beach paintings are a reflection of the painter’s youth, dating back to the 1920s and 1930s in Long Beach, California. As a teenager Thiebaud (born November 15, 1920) served as a city lifeguard, which provided him a unique perspective of coastline activities. It was here that the first impression of beach culture made its mark on his memory.

By the early 1960s, he began to focus on objects of mass culture such as pies, cakes, and pinball machines creating the essential Thiebaud aesthetic: simplified geometric forms executed in rich, dense colors. Laguna Art Museum Director Bolton Colburn states, Although Thiebaud was included in the first museum exhibition of the Pop Art movement, organized by Walter Hopps for the Pasadena Art Museum in 1962, and was featured in Lucy Lippard’s seminal book on Pop Art in 1966, the artist has never really had an allegiance to any particular style or subject matter. In fact, he began creating images of common objects as early as 1953, long before the emergence of Pop Art.

Thiebaud experienced acclaimed success with his series of found objects and landscape paintings. As a result, he sought inspiration elsewhere in hopes of breaking away from the predictability that accompanied such iconic imagery. By the 1980s he began to extend his brief trips to Laguna Beach, a beachside community that brought back vivid memories of his upbringing in Long Beach. It was these childhood remembrances that first inspired the beach bathers theme explored in his 1959 painting Beach Boys. Now, almost fifty years later, Thiebaud continues to find inspiration in Southern California beach culture. Incorporating a freshly minted style, the works include a broader exploration of emotion and content that vivify his waning formal conventions.

Guest curator Gene Cooper says, “He is a painter at the age of 87 whose unfinished oeuvre portrays a discerning self-portrait in progress. It has long been his practice to mine his near-photographic memory for salient images that signify his past. Whether it’s a display of nostalgic candy apples or recollections of Southern California’s beach culture, they are primary forms that mark his life’s journey as well as illustrating his warm humanist values. In the world of art, Thiebaud remains as America’s vox populi.”

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