Paul Thiebaud Gallery
Wayne Thiebaud: Monotypes
December 1, 2018—January 26, 2019
Wayne Thiebaud likes to test the limits of his materials. Known for transforming heavily worked paint into cake frosting or for applying it in sculptural layers to poignant renderings of mountain crags, he’s inverted his procedure in his Monotypes, making direct impressions on paper of surfaces prepared with watercolor and ink. Freed of the weighty tradition of oils, these airy, gestural prints—quick and unique—have more in common with photography. They inspire a fresh spirit of discovery and sheer visual exuberance in an artist who once aspired to be an art director, as he revisits themes from his paintings that reflect the influence of comics, advertising and movies.
There’s only one piece of cake among the 41 works in this series, created in two working sessions: six in collaboration with painter Nathan Oliveira at Stanford University in 1977 and the remainder in San Francisco at Crown Point Press in 1991. The Crown Point prints explore a wider range of inks, watercolor pencils and pens, applied to grounds of aquatint to achieve a fluid fusion of drawing and color. They combine delicate meshes of lines with squashed blobs of pigment. The technique lends itself to atmospheric effects that recall Turner and Constable, evoking the sublime, but Thiebaud also incorporates irreverent cartoon devices, like a diagonal horizon line from corner to corner, or a cloud poised like a thought balloon over what resembles the Empire State Building. Above crowded freeways, isolated figures in high office spaces recall Hopper’s cinematic anomie, while groups of figures on the beach, including the flying acrobats in “Untitled Players” (1991), lend urban anonymity to recreation; they suggest a compendium of contemporary life rather like Dziga Vertov’s landmark film, “Man with a Movie Camera” (1929). One of the largest prints, of an elaborately plumed circus performer, emphasizes the overall theatricality.