Studio visit: Wayne Thiebaud

The much-loved artist discusses drawings versus prints, the audacity of the artist’s vocation — and why he doesn't believe in ‘the idea of success’ — featuring works offered at Christie’s

‘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.’

Wayne Thiebaud, Big Green Sucker, 1970. Coloured pencil on paper. 18¾ x 23¾ in. Estimate $150,000-200,000. Offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Morning Session on 16 May at Christie’s in New York © 2019 Wayne Thiebaud  Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Wayne Thiebaud, Big Green Sucker, 1970. Coloured pencil on paper. 18¾ x 23¾ in. Estimate: $150,000-200,000. Offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Morning Session on 16 May at Christie’s in New York © 2019 Wayne Thiebaud / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

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.’ 

Wayne Thiebaud, Condiments, 1972. Gouache on paper. 16 x 22 in. Estimate $250,000-350,000. Offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Morning Session on 16 May at Christie’s in New York © 2019 Wayne Thiebaud  Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Wayne Thiebaud, Condiments, 1972. Gouache on paper. 16 x 22 in. Estimate: $250,000-350,000. Offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Morning Session on 16 May at Christie’s in New York © 2019 Wayne Thiebaud / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

This May during 20th Century Week in New York, a number of beautiful works on paper by Wayne Thiebaud will be offered from a private collection. Each highlights the artist’s prowess as a draughtsman. ‘I can sin in any medium,’ Thiebaud has commented. 


 

Wayne Thiebaud, Pie Slice, 1978. Pastel and watercolour on paper. 9¼ x 9 in. Estimate $300,000-500,000. Offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Morning Session on 16 May at Christie’s in New York © 2019 Wayne Thiebaud  Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Wayne Thiebaud, Pie Slice, 1978. Pastel and watercolour on paper. 9¼ x 9 in. Estimate: $300,000-500,000. Offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Morning Session on 16 May at Christie’s in New York © 2019 Wayne Thiebaud / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

The works include a 1970 work, Big Green Sucker, which is drawn in coloured pencil (estimate: $150,000-200,000), and Condiments, a gouache on paper from two years later (estimate: $250,000-350,000).

Pie Slice, a pastel and watercolour on paper, is estimated at $300,000-500,000, and is another one of Thiebaud’s nostalgic depictions of archetypically American confections associated with childhood, holidays and family gatherings.





 

Wayne Thiebaud, Lunch Table, 1964. Watercolour and graphite on paper. 8¾ x 13 in. Estimate $400,000-600,000. Offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Morning Session on 16 May at Christie’s in New York © 2019 Wayne Thiebaud  Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Wayne Thiebaud, Lunch Table, 1964. Watercolour and graphite on paper. 8¾ x 13 in. Estimate: $400,000-600,000. Offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Morning Session on 16 May at Christie’s in New York © 2019 Wayne Thiebaud / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

The artist fittingly draws such works from imagination rather than real life, and his works frequently evoke ideas of shared memories. One such example is Lunch Table, an exquisite watercolour and graphite that was executed in 1964 (estimate: $400,000-600,000).

‘I love it when people smile at my work. It’s for pleasure really,’ Thiebaud 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.’