Studio visit: Wayne Thiebaud

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.’