Review: Wayne Thiebaud, White Cube ‘Plenty of Guilty Pleasures’


White Cube Mason’s Yard is currently hosting a gloriously colourful, uplifting, and deceptively insightful exhibition of work from Wayne Thiebaud, one of America’s foremost twentieth century painters. Wayne’s career spans seventy years (He’s in his nineties and still going strong!) and this is a show that covers most of those decades, with works from the sixties to, well, earlier this year.

And these are canvases brimful of Americana, with images of sugar sweet frosting on wedding cakes hung alongside cheese burgers, slices of cherry pie, and ice cream cones. But there’s also American cityscapes on display too, including a quite mesmerising painting of the intersection of Highway 220, as well as rural landscapes and even portraits.

Wayne is often associated with the Pop Art movement, somewhat understandably, given the subject matter and approach. And there’s certainly more than just theme to link him to this genre. Like other Pop artists, here the subject matter is removed from its context, isolated and reduced. However, Wayne emerged when the abstract expressionists were at the fore and to casually bucket him with the likes of Warhol would mean overlooking some of the finer points in Wayne’s work.

Take his Cherry Topped Desserts, 1986, or his Cheese Deli, 2016-17, for example. Their structure and bold colour has all the hallmarks of Fauvism. And there’s a certain sense of alienation and separation in his portraits, such as Green Dress, 1966/2017, and Robed Woman with Letter, 1976-2013, that brings to mind the spirit of Edward Hopper, especially when considered against the wider background of urban scenes that frequent Wayne’s works, as well as – again – coming back to that isolation of subject matter, cropping it and disconnecting it from its wider context. There’s a tension that draws you in, that makes them curious and interesting. Fascinatingly deceptive paintings.

I really enjoyed this show. Americana, guilty pleasure and joyful colour all swirled into one. But there’s depth here, too. More thought-provoking than I had imagined. Absolutely recommended.

White Cube Mason’s Yard, London, to July 2, 2017
Admission free.
See more images from this exhibition in my Facebook album.

Image credits:
1 Wayne Thiebaud, Two Wedding Cakes, 2015, Oil on wood panel, 36 x 48 in. © Wayne Thiebaud /DACS, London /VAGA, New York 2017
2 Wayne Thiebaud, Green Dress, 1966/2017, Oil on canvas 72 x 60 in. © Wayne Thiebaud /DACS, London /VAGA, New York 2017
3 Wayne Thiebaud, Clown Cones, 2000, Acrylic and gouache on paper 10 ¼ x 14 ¼ in. © Wayne Thiebaud /DACS, London /VAGA, New York 2017

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