Presented as a monumental icon, Wayne Thiebaud's Guitar is transformed into a rhythmic composition that brilliantly marries realism and abstraction. Painted in 1962 (with the addition in 2002 of the rack at the top upon which the guitar hangs), it demonstrates the aesthetic vigor that Thiebaud could derive from a seemingly prosaic object. 1962 was a breakthrough year for Thiebaud -- it was the year of his first one-man exhibition in New York at the Allan Stone Gallery and the beginning of his mature style.
Attuned to the abstract beauty of the curvilinear form of the guitar, Thiebaud's composition exemplifies the process he praised, whereby a painter "can enliven a construct of paint by doing any number of manipulations and additions to what he sees both abstract and real simultaneously" (M. Strand, ed., Art of the Real: Nine American Figurative Painters, New York, 1983, p. 192). The guitar's shape suggests a figure of a woman, predating the sensual nudes that he would paint later in the 1960's. Yet the guitar is also an emblem of consumer culture, of Elvis and the rock and roll that was exploding in popularity.
Set against a plain white background, the composition recalls Thiebaud's experience in advertising in the 1940s. Thiebaud understood the visual impact of commercial artists' treatment of their subjects, such as using blank backgrounds -- in this case a subtle white with a hint of grey in it -- to isolate the products and quick, decisive lines to delineate them. The painting also shows Thiebaud's brilliant use of a rainbow outline around the guitar edge that interacts with the shadow to create a strong sense of visual moment. The effect is palpable, creating a vibrating sensation that is perfectly in tune with its subject.