Ahead of the 29 September sale of prints and works on paper from his private studio, we meet the 95-year-old artist to discuss drawings versus prints, the audacity of the artist’s vocation — and why he doesn't believe in ‘the idea of success’
‘I knew this was not a good career choice,’ says artist Wayne Thiebaud in his sun-drenched California studio. ‘Most of the painters I knew were just barely able to survive and had other jobs,’ he continues. ‘But I don’t believe in the idea of success; when we surrender ourselves to that, I think we’ve lost something special.’
In spite, or perhaps because of this logic, Thiebaud is an immensely successful artist. ‘I was lucky,’ he reasons. When he decided to paint, he recalls asking himself, ‘How do I do this?’ — realising that the answer was, ‘with extreme difficulty’. As an artist, he says, ‘you probably won't be able to make a living, but you can make a life.’
Thiebaud considers paintings ‘alternate universes’ — his own abstractions inspired by syncopation in music. ‘Sometimes I'm successful. Sometimes I fail,’ he reflects. ‘I'm not showing off. My work is about human things.’
A selection of 97 works, chosen by Christie’s in partnership with Thiebaud, features in the sale Thiebaud from Thiebaud: Prints and Works on Paper from the Private Studio of Wayne Thiebaud, which will take place in New York on 29 September. Each has been selected for its ability to highlight the artist’s prowess as a draftsman and printmaker — the latter representing a vital, yet lesser-known facet of his practice.
‘I can sin in any medium,’ Thiebaud has commented. This group of works encompasses 15 different printmaking methods, with highlights including Levees and Dikes (Green River Turn), estimated at $350,000-450,000 — a masterful example of Thiebaud’s Sacramento River series, created in his studio from sketches made en plein air.
Additional highlights include ‘Delights’, Thiebaud's seminal portfolio of etchings, printed at Crown Point Press in Berkeley California in 1964, estimated at $60,000-80,000. The portfolio contains 17 etchings and encompasses many of Thiebaud's most iconic and frequently explored compositions.
Untitled (Cupcake), estimated at $200,000-300,000, is a commanding depiction of an archetypically American confection associated with holidays and family gatherings — a nostalgia that roadside diners knowingly play upon. Thiebaud’s works evoke ideas of shared memories, and the artist fittingly draws such works from imagination rather than real life.
‘I love it when people smile at my work. It’s for pleasure really,’ he concludes. ‘It would be nice if you could feel you’re creating some works that are worth looking at, uniquely. That’s an audacious quest, but a great one.’
All proceeds from the sale will benefit the Wayne Thiebaud Foundation, a private non-profit foundation that serves to house archives and arrange educational exhibitions. Auction highlights will be on view at Crown Point Press in San Francisco, where the artist has done the majority of his printmaking over the past 63 years. The exhibition will be free and open to the public from September 7-10.