WAYNE THIEBAUD (1920-2021)
WAYNE THIEBAUD (1920-2021)
WAYNE THIEBAUD (1920-2021)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection
WAYNE THIEBAUD (1920-2021)

Paint Cans

WAYNE THIEBAUD (1920-2021)
Paint Cans
incised with the artist's signature and date 'Thiebaud 1988' (upper center); signed again and dated again 'Thiebaud 1988' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
21 1/2 x 23 in. (54.6 x 58.4 cm.)
Painted in 1988
Paul Thiebaud Gallery, San Francisco.
Private collection, United States (acquired from the above).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 2016.
Special notice

On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

Brought to you by

Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

Painted in 1988, Wayne Thiebaud’s Paint Cans shows the eponymous subject matter placed in an anonymous setting. This particular composition is unique, in that the artist has harnessed a darker palette in the service of highlighting the visual drama that is taking place on the surface of the paint cans themselves. In highlighting their reflective quality, Thiebaud projects back all that is projected onto them, resulting in a kaleidoscopic array of colors. This intentional and highly detailed technique displays the sense of mystery that often comes with Thiebaud’s interpretations of seemingly everyday objects.

Thiebaud’s work captivates viewers with his unrivaled mastery of seizing the true essence of the objects he paints, positioning the artist as one of the foremost figurative painters of his generation. Across each of the artist's vast array of everyday objects is a unifying ubiquity of complex shadows, light, and surface sheen for which Thiebaud is widely revered. In the example work, this can be seen in the reflective sides of each can themselves. Their metallic hues are heavily contrasted by the silky drips of vibrant color both in the can and falling off the side, creating a visually engaging dance of color and texture. These reflections also evoke the rising and falling of the artist’s cityscapes, which were also painted during this period, illuminating the artist's constantly evolving practice and his peripatetic imagination.

Paint Cans removes familiar objects from their familiar surroundings and in the process imbues them with new meaning. The artist famously talked about the wonderful qualities of common, everyday objects, from the way in which they contained almost poetic qualities, to their transcendent potential to be more than meets the eye. This statement helps us to see and understand works such as Paint Cans. Thiebaud saw the beauty of everyday things and by making work such as this, calls to attention what is often overlooked.

Pulling from a wide range of sources, from European Old Master paintings, East Cost Pop Art, and the sunshine of his native California, Thiebaud mastered the ability to distill an object to its essential form, allowing his subject—whether it be a slice of cake, a slot machine, or a can of paint—to shine with visual potential. This is what sets him apart from his New York contemporaries such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, artists who also took everyday objects as their subject matter. Warhol once said he wanted his practice to mirror his pieces; he wanted to be a machine and create as quickly as the pieces he was rendering. This thought process was common in Pop Art, and although Thiebaud engaged with the same subjects, his technique was more allied with that of the masters of the past.

In many ways, Paint Cans is a painting about painting; the subject matter is obvious, but on a deeper level it also works as an examination of the process of artistic looking. Thiebaud believed in the hidden potential of the everyday object, and that idea is seen clearly in Paint Cans. What is typically thought of as the messy vessel out of which something beautiful is made, the cans are now brought to the canvas as visual objects in their own right. In a way, as a painter, Thiebaud is almost paying homage to the medium that lights up his work and the painters who came before him.

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