Reverently painted on an intimate scale, Lipsticks is a superb example of Wayne Thiebaud's early mature works, which represents his unsurpassed ability to transform everyday objects into poetic meditations. Thiebaud painted the present work in 1964, just shortly after his first exhibition at the Allan Stone Gallery in New York, where it was purchased by its present owner who has maintained the work ever since.
Thiebaud's still-lifes of modern American life became instant icons. Given his images' evocation of the kind of illuminated displays found in department stores, it is not surprising that Thiebaud should turn to rendering lipsticks. In fact, they were a recurring theme in his art, together with jars of cold cream, cakes and pie slices. Lined up in neat rows, Thiebaud seems to have highlighted the gleaming metal tubes of these lipsticks. Their shiny, perfect, cylindrical shape seems to mimic the look of bullet casings. It is this double-meaning that adds a sinister quality to the seemingly benign image.
Thiebaud was not concerned with Pop Art's satirical bent, but instead chose to celebrate in earnest the aesthetic pleasures of the commonplace. He has wedded his realist subjects with a brilliant eye for abstraction, carefully controlling every element of this intricate arrangement to give an overall sense of balance and weight. Having worked briefly as an advertising designer and a cartoonist, Thiebaud uses the clarity and graphic power demanded of his former occupations to incisively distill the lipsticks' streamlined forms in a rainbow of complimentary colors, whilst dramatic blue shadows make them jut forward like a sculptured relief from the porcelain-white background.