In the 1980s, Wayne Thiebaud turned away from his usual sugary confections and other still-lifes and focused on cityscapes. He was greatly influenced by the vertiginous terrain of San Francisco with swooping streets and the dramatic tilt of the buildings and houses flanking them. For Thiebaud, this subject matter posed a new formal challenge. "I was playing around with abstract notions of the edge--I was fascinated, living in San Francisco, by the way that different streets came in and then just vanished. So I sat out on a street corner and began to paint them, but they didn't really work. No one view seemed to get this sense of edges appearing, things swooping around their own edges, that I loved" (Quoted in A. Gopnik, "American Painter", Wayne Thiebaud, New York, exh. cat., 2000, p. 58).
Morning Down Streets is an impressive example of Thiebaud's unique foray into landscape painting. It is a dramatic view of an intersection where two streets meet perpendicular to each other. The horizontal street veers diagonally across the canvas while the vertical street rises steeply to the top. The stacked clusters of buildings flanking the vertical street create deep shadows connoting the start of the day. Thiebaud's characteristic smooth impasto in rich pastel and earth tones are organized into almost abstract patterns.
Thiebaud's renown as a Californian artist parallels another artist: Richard Diebenkorn. In fact, they were simultaneously working on landscapes during this period. "The most striking likeness in the cityscapes is to the seascapes (more than to the earlier cityscapes) that Thiebaud's friend and contemporary and fellow pillar of California painting, Richard Diebenkorn, was undertaking just around the same time: his Ocean Park, series. At the simplest levels, both artists were taking partly horizontal scenes and making them into vertical pictures. Diebenkorn took the long expanse of Venice beaches and stood them upright like refrigerators; Thiebaud took the way San Francisco falls down and made it stand up. Thiebaud makes of San Francisco's gravity what Guardi made of Venice's water-an unimagined substance that can extend even into the sky. Both painters' series are based on the coloristic play between handsome khakis and ochers and sudden accents of sky blues and sea greens" (Ibid, p. 59).
Fig. 1 Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park No. 24, 1968
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven