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January 31, 2003

Wayne Thiebaud Biography

Wayne Thiebaud in Sacramento studio, 1990, photo by Matt Bult.Morton Wayne Thiebaud was born in Mesa, Arizona on November 15, 1920. The family moved to California in 1921 and, except for a brief period in Utah (1931-33), he was raised in Long Beach and Los Angeles. At Long Beach Polytechnic High School (1935-38), he showed an interest in sports, music, theater and drawing, particularly cartooning. In 1936 he worked as a summer apprentice in the animation department of Walt Disney studios. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army Air Force (1942-45) and was stationed at Mather Air Force Base near Sacramento, his first introduction to the area. Assigned duties as a commercial artist, he drew a cartoon strip for the base newspaper. After the war, he became a designer and artist at Rexall Drug Company in Los Angeles (1946-49) where he created a comic strip for the company magazine. He began to paint in an expressionist figurative style and exhibited in a group show at the Los Angeles County Museum in 1948. In 1950 he enrolled as a student at Sacramento State College (now California State University, Sacramento) and received a Bachelor of Arts in 1951 and a Master of Arts in 1953. In 1951, he became an instructor at Sacramento Junior College (now Sacramento City College) and taught both art and art history there through 1960. During 1956-57, he took a leave of absence and lived in New York, where he met the painters of the New York School, including Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and Barnett Newman. In 1960 he was appointed assistant professor in the department of art at the University of California, Davis. He held subsequent positions there as associate professor (1963-67), and professor (1967 until his retirement at age 70), and currently is a professor emeritus.

In 1960-61 he found his signature style with brightly colored still-life paintings of food and other objects, shown against neutral backgrounds. In April 1962 he received national recognition with his first one-person exhibition in New York at the Allan Stone Gallery, a commercial and critical success. This was followed in October by his inclusion in New Realists at the Sidney Janis Gallery, the first group exhibition of Pop Art in America. In 1963 he began a series of paintings of people, shown in stiff formal poses and with little facial expression. His range of subjects expanded once more in 1966 when he embarked on a series of landscapes depicting sites in northern California. In 1973 he purchased a second home on Potrero Hill in San Francisco and began to focus on eccentric cityscapes emphasizing the steep hills. During the mid-1990s he embarked on a series of brightly colored landscapes depicting the Sacramento River Delta. Wayne Thiebaud has received numerous honors during his long career, including the Governor's Award for Lifetime Achievements in the Arts in 1991, the National Medal for Arts Presidential Award in 1994 and an honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts from California State University, Sacramento in 1998.


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