Beginning his mature still-life paintings in 1961, Wayne Thiebaud forged his signature celebrations of common American food. His single and multiple groupings of pies, layer cakes, hot dogs, hamburgers, ice cream cones and candy, first shown in his hometown of San Francisco, earned him the moniker of "the hungriest artist in California." The paintings had far greater acclaim in New York where they were shown at Allan Stone Gallery in the spring of 1962. Among the rave critical reviews, Max Kozloff declared Thiebaud as "the poet laureate of the coffee break, or the truck driver's dream" (M. Kozloff cited J. Coplans, Wayne Thiebaud, exh. cat., Pasadena Art Musuem, 1968, p. 8). Executed in the year after his successful entry into the art world, 7 Candied Apples (1963) is an exquisite work that depicts one of Thiebaud's oft-repeated motifs in his unique style. This work captures the artist on the upswing of his creative prowess and fame.
While his artistic "arrival" coincided with Pop Art's emergence Thiebaud has forever distanced himself from the movement. Rather than satirizing consumer society, mass production and advertising, his work relates to an honest appreciation for the American experience. Stating, "[My subject matter] was a genuine sort of experience that came out of my life, particularly the American world in which I was privileged to be. It just seemed to be the most genuine thing which I had done," Thiebaud has been far more comfortable being called a "realistic painter" (W. Thiebaud cited in S. A. Nash, Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective, San Francisco, 2000, p. 18). 7 Candied Apples taps into the nostalgia of every American's childhood.
Thiebaud executed the edible icons of the vernacular American experience with his singular paint handling--the rich, smooth dragging of paint across a surface or around a shape in a way that proclaimed both the lusciousness of oil paint and often transformed itself into the very object being depicted, in what he called "object transference". 7 Candied Apples evinces the artist's rapid alla prima technique and an expert manipulation of dense, buttery pigment with a heavily loaded brush. The impastoed surface speaks of the elegant bravura of Old Master brushwork but is built up to such an extent that it begins to suggest the material presence of the objects themselves rather than a merely adept illusion of them. The consummate confectioner, he has stated, "I like to see what happens when the relationship between paint and subject matter comes as close as I can get it--white, gooey, shiny, sticky oil paint [spread] on top of a painted cake to "become" frosting. It is playing with reality - making an illusion which grows out of an exploration of the properties of materials" (W. Thiebaud cited in D. Wheeler, Art Since Mid-Century: 1945 to the Present, New York, 1991, p. 155). In mimicking the exaggerated succulence of mass-produced foods, Thiebaud evoked the kind of abundance particular to Post-War American life.
Centered and cropped without the distracting details of a backdrop, 7 Candied Apples isolates the eponymous apples, focusing all attention on them. The viewer luxuriates in their visual and tactile pleasures, their Pop-like seriality and their simultaneously Minimalist progression-like composition. Thiebaud had long admired the still-life paintings of Giorgio Morandi for their ability to provoke contemplative quiet and a palpable sense of protracted looking and for their delicate varied effects achieved through seemingly minimal means. Fixating solely on the apples enabled the artist the prolonged exploration of structure, color and texture.