Wayne Thiebaud was born in 1920 in Mesa, Arizona, but moved to California when still a baby. As a teenager, he apprenticed at Walt Disney Pictures and Walt Disney Studio. From 1938 to 1949, he worked as a cartoonist and designer in California and New York. His early experience working in commercial art had an influence on his later paintings. In 1949, Thiebaud studied at San Jose State College and later transferred to Sacramento State College, where he received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. By 1960, he was teaching at the University of California, Davis. He taught there for ten years and influenced many young artists.
Also in 1960, he exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Thiebaud’s first solo exhibition was at the Crocker Art Gallery in Sacramento. In 1962, he met Allan Stone, who became his dealer in New York until Stone’s death. He was included in the landmark group exhibition, New Realists, at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York. Many site this show as the official launching of Pop Art.
While on a trip to New York, he became friends with artists Franz Kline and Willem De Kooning. Their work influenced Wayne Thiebaud as did proto pop artist Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. During this time, he began a series based on images of food displayed in windows. Emphasis was on the basic shapes of the food and he used heavy pigment and strong colors with well-defined shadows.
In 1962, Thiebaud’s works were included, along with Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Jim Dine, Robert Dowd and Edward Ruscha, in the now historical exhibition, New Painting of Common Objects, curated by Walter Hopps at the Pasadena Art Museum. Wayne Thiebaud was associated with Pop art because his subjects were found in mass culture, most notably paintings of production line objects found in diners and cafeterias, such as pies and pastries. He was one of the first artists to paint popular cultural and is said to have influenced the movement. In addition to food, Thiebaud also painted landscapes, streetscapes, and characters such as Mickey Mouse.
Wayne Thiebaud received the National Medal of Arts from President Clinton in 1994 and the Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award from the National Arts Club, New York City in 1996. He was honored by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s Legion of Honor and with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Art from the American Academy of Design, New York in 2001. Wayne Thiebaud’s paintings can be found in collections at major museums across the United States including the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.