Over the past five years Wayne Thiebaud has made dozens of paintings, drawings, and etchings of clowns. Like much of his work, this latest series is in a sense autobiographical. During his boyhood in Long Beach he saw a traveling Ringling Brothers circus and sometimes helped out behind the scenes in exchange for tickets. The costumes, faces, and antics of the clowns were the beginning of a lifelong fascination for him. The clown series is its culmination, in which the ninety-nine-year-old artist revisits those early memories.
In December 2019 Thiebaud unveiled a selection from his clown series at the San Francisco gallery founded by his son, Paul Thiebaud. The Laguna Art Museum exhibition will be a version of the Paul Thiebaud Gallery exhibition, featuring about forty works.
Given the importance of memories in Thiebaud’s work, it seems fitting that his clown series, a tribute to performers remembered from his boyhood, should have its museum debut in a town for which he feels a nostalgic fondness. He came to Laguna Beach on visits with his family as a child and later, after his son opened a gallery here, stayed for extended periods in an apartment overlooking Main Beach. Laguna Art Museum staged exhibitions of his work in 2007 and 2014–and in 2018 he presented his painting Jolly Cones, a version of one of his many New Yorker covers, to the museum’s permanent collection.
Wayne Thiebaud: Clowns will be on view at Laguna Art Museum from October 11, 2020, through January 10, 2021, and will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue containing and interview with the artist. The exhibition will be shown concurrently with a retrospective of Thiebaud’s work at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, the city where he has lived and worked for most of his life. Both exhibitions will be on display when this senior statesman of American art turns 100 years old on November 15.
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