Delights is the initial product of Wayne Thiebaud’s fifty-two year relationship with master printer Kathan Brown and her San Francisco etching workshop Crown Point Press. The portfolio contains seventeen etchings, and encompasses many of Thiebaud’s compositions that he continues to explore in all media. Brown was interested in the tradition of artist’s books during this period, and similar to Richard Diebenkorn’s 41 Etchings Drypoints also published by Crown Point in 1965, half of the edition was produced in bound books such as the present lot. Thiebaud’s wife Betty Jean named the project Delights, a fitting description of this joyful collection of subjects. The intimate nature of these etchings both in scale and composition invites the viewer to notice Thiebaud’s very small details: the tiny olives on the sandwich, the stark shadow behind the fruit stand or his perfectly formed fried egg.
The story of the portfolio’s genesis has become an iconic tale in twentieth century printmaking. Initially Brown was frustrated that Thiebaud was repeating imagery found in his paintings and worried that the prints would be too reproductive in nature. Thiebaud responded that he was interested in making prints to investigate how a picture comes together and how reduction and change could influence his understanding of the overall whole. He remarked to Brown: “When you change anything, you change everything.” (Brown, Know that You are Lucky, p. 46). What followed this dialogue was a series of etchings that brought a new dimension to Thiebaud’s iconography, one that tied his love of structure and form directly to his image making.
The first print, Lunch, is the result of Thiebaud drawing on an etching plate their meal in the studio that afternoon. Two cans of beer, two sandwiches and two avocado halves are rendered in delicate black and white etching lines that reduce the composition to its simplest forms. It is also a homage to a tradition found in many print workshops that the artist shares lunch with the printer and the studio – emblematic of the intimate nature of this relationship.
In Delights cross hatched lines, a technique as old as Rembrandt’s etchings, are used to provide shadow and depth. Contrast to this rich texture is found in the empty spaces where the paper shines through. This stark contrast is found in many of Thiebaud’s editions to the present day, while some of his editions are rendered in lush color in the mode of his paintings, many of his prints are in stark black and white found in Delights.
Wayne Thiebaud was the first artist that Kathan Brown invited to Crown Point with the goal of publishing his prints. The relationship has been prolific ever since, and he continues to produce new work at the studio to the present day. Delights has been exhibited extensively in museum shows devoted to the artist and to Crown Point Press, and is considered to be one of the most important etching portfolios in Post-War and Contemporary art.
"There's nothing really that I've ever found in other lines that is like an etched line--its fidelity, the richness of it, the density. You just don't get that any other way." – Wayne Thiebaud