Ripley Street Ridge is a prime example of Thiebaud's distinctly dramatic depiction of the California urban landscape. This early landscape signifies a major development in the artist's oeuvre and his growing assurance in his own brand of modern realism. Thiebaud has lived along the California coast, from the areas spanning San Diego to San Francisco for almost his entire life, and witnessed first hand the profound changes in post-war California with its urban growth and expanding car culture. This native knowledge of the west coast combined with an uncanny ability to capture the unique characteristics of California light informs the complexity of Thiebaud's singular composition and design.
Thiebaud began seriously observing the urban landscape as a subject in 1972 when he purchased a second home in the Potrero Hill section of San Francisco. Inspired by the dramatic vantage points and pitched perspectives of the city's topography, Thiebaud began his series that would continue well into the 90's. As the artist recalls, "I was playing around with the abstract notions of edge--I was fascinated, living in San Francisco, by the way different streets just came in and then just vanished. So I sat out on a street corner and began to paint them." It was the "sense of edges appearing, things swooping around their own edges that I loved" (Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective, exh. cat., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2000, p. 58).
From the hilly San Francisco streets, drawing pad in hand, Thiebaud makes a multitude of sketches (emulating the working method of his idol Edward Hopper), which he later reworks and compiles into larger paintings back in his studio. This composite technique allows Thiebaud to blend reality with his own vision. The artist explains his process, "What happens is that you start off with certain feelings, certain attitudes, that you have about this city, you have certain indigenous forms that you know how to annotate, but, if you then pay too much attention to the specifics of this, it may interfere with what you might personally be able to add to the vision. The artist's work, it seems to me, combines three different worlds. There is our real world, which we all share and on which there is a consensus; the art world and its historical tradition; and one's apperceptive mass, a unique, individual world. These influences have to be of almost equal percentage in order to insure a full visual experience" (Wayne Thiebaud: Cityscapes, exh. cat., Campbell-Thiebaud Gallery, 1993, p. 3).
Vividly venturing in the interval between abstraction and representation, Thiebaud's buildings face the viewer as flattened squares or rectangles of creamy light-struck color. Streets become vertical zips and diagonally slicing ribbons that sweep us from under our feet and send us tumbling through a vertiginous intersection of juxtaposing planes and angles. For Thiebaud, Ripley Street Ridge is foremost a study of form and composition. Here he exaggerates the steep terrain of the San Francisco topography by conscious manipulation of color and light to paint texture, to produce a painting that is firstly an artistic construction; its role as a descriptive depiction is only secondary. Ripley Street Ridge addresses the dichotomy of the energy of city life co-existing in a scene of extreme foreshortening and shifting perspectives. The intersections of San Francisco became the perfect forum within which to explore the opposing tensions between modern abstraction and classic representation.