Untitled (Cityscape) of 1986 is an exquisite example of Wayne Thiebaud's fascination with the urban landscape of California, where he has lived for almost his entire life. Thiebaud's interest in the city dates back to his childhood. His Uncle Lowell's occupation as a roadmaker initially sparked his appreciation of urban geography: "When I was about 8 years old, he gave me a little toy bulldozer and scraper and cars, and invited me to go and make this little world out in the backyard. And, for some reason or other, it was a very intriguing and memorable thing to do. I had this earth place where I could make roads, tunnels, little buildings, and trees and make my own worldandI've remained interested in the city as a human enterprise, and the pile of human tracks it contains and the byways of living and moving" (W. Thiebaud, quoted in an interview with Richard Wollhiem, Wayne Thiebaud: Cityscapes, San Francisco, 1993, n.p.).
Thiebaud began seriously perusing urban landscape as a subject in 1973 when he purchased a second home in San Francisco. Inspired by the dramatic vantage points and pitched perspectives of the city's topography, Thiebaud began his series of cityscapes. As the artist remarks, "I was playing around with the abstract notions of edge - I was fascinated, living in San Francisco, by the way different streets just came in and then just vanished. So I sat out on a street corner and began to paint them." (Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective, exh. cat., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2000, p. 58). From the hilly San Francisco streets, drawing pad in hand, Thiebaud makes a multitude of sketches (emulating the working method of his idol Edward Hopper), which he later reworks and compiles into larger paintings back in his studio. This composite technique allows Thiebaud to blend reality with his own vision.
Pinpointing the precise San Francisco street that Thiebaud may have been inspired by is an elusive quest, rather the artist would try to work from a particular neighborhood's sensibilities to create a painting that reflects quintessential San Franciscan charm. Blending fact and fiction, Thiebaud executes his cityscapes by starting "off with certain feelings, certain attitudes," then annotating the indigenous forms of the landscape to fit his desired result. Despite taking the artistic liberties of abstraction, Thiebaud maintains a sense of realism by painting the city's inherent grittiness, while at the same time portraying the "shiny, bright, brassy diamond-like things" (W. Thiebaud, quoted in an interview with Richard Wollhiem, Wayne Thiebaud: Cityscapes, San Francisco, 1993, n.p.).
The dramatically tilted picture plane of Untitled (Cityscape), thrusts the complex pictorial surface forward to become almost parallel with the canvas' surface. This plummeting verticality consumes the viewer within the rich swathes of paint reflecting what is undeniably San Francisco-the steep hills and striking vistas. As such, the cars seem to waterfall down the road, yet somehow remain grounded.
Unlike Richard Diebenkorn, another master of the Californian landscape, Thiebaud did not sublimate his urban landscapes into ethereal abstractions. Instead, Thiebaud's cityscapes are filled with the pulse of life and individualized details, from the colors of cars speeding along the dark asphalt to the dizzying heights of the jeweled skyscrapers. Thiebaud's unique combination of representation and abstraction, seriousness and wit, fluidity and structure, transforms Untitled (Cityscape) into an aesthetic fantasy that is almost surreal in its effect.