Wayne Thiebaud - Contemporary Art Day Sale New York Friday, May 16, 2014 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Allan Stone Gallery, New York
    Collection of Abraham Sherr, New York, 1963
    Private Collection, United States
    Private Collection

  • Exhibited

    New York, Allan Stone Gallery, Wayne Thiebaud: Recent Paintings, April 9 - April 27, 1963

  • Catalogue Essay

    "I think we have barely touched upon the real capacity of what realistic painting can do."
    Wayne Thiebaud, 1968

    As a looming force in contemporary painting, Wayne Thiebaud has always skirted heady issues of form and approach, single-handedly negating the notion that great art must have an accompanying air of mystery and pretention. Thiebaud’s confectionary subject matter of choice has always grounded his work in an unequaled aura of accessibility—Thiebaud is Alexander Calder with a paintbrush, creating art sweetly extolled by both the old and the young. Yet that is not to say that Thiebaud’s delicious pies, candies, and toys cannot touch us the way in which a great Romantic landscape can, for Thiebaud excites our most primal appetite in his work: the eternal craving for simplicity and sweetness, perhaps suppressed but never conquered. 1962 saw Thiebaud enter the mainstream, and in Candy Sticks from that year, his idiosyncratic mastery of the canvas is already at hand, tempting both our sweet tooth and sensuous attention.

    Though he paints to this day at the age of 93, having passed through a plethora of figure and subject matter, Thiebaud’s delicious treats remain his most enduring legacy, and one that he still revisits. Perhaps the quality in these paintings that lends them the most gravitas is their inextricable link to California, the land of both Thiebaud’s childhood and work. Though sunny in their disposition, and full of hyper-real color foregrounding a cartoonist’s shadows, Thiebaud’s cakes, candies, gumballs, and diner fare represent Pop’s answer to the American gastronomic landscape. As the production line began to run more and more quickly in the 1950s, so did the standardization of sweets—the mechanical duplication of deliciousness.

    Thiebaud created his first paintings of cakes and candies during the late 1950s, as he assumed a teaching position at the University of California-Davis. Davis was fertile ground for Thiebaud’s exploration of his subject matter. Irreverent in the face of American Abstract Expressionism for its marvelous directness and simplicity, yet profound for just that reason, Thiebaud’s work conjures the ritual inherent in American consumption: a gastronomy as timeless as Edward Hopper’s landscape Americana.

    Candy Sticks, 1962, amounts to the perfect manifestation of Thiebaud’s artistic project. Compact in its form and honest in its complete lack of pretention, the piece has no illusions about its identity nor does it profess to function as a metaphor for a deeper reality. Instead, it requires the viewer to contend only with the forms upon the surface and to be content only with those forms—which, of course, is not a difficult task. Sprawled out on the surface of the canvas, Thiebaud’s confectionary marvels dance in rhythm, as if the bearer has chosen this exact moment to unfurl his candied treasures for our pleasure. They are paragons of a bygone era in American history, when the ideals of domestic and suburban utopia were slowly beginning to erode along with the decade of their triumph, the 1950s.

    Thiebaud’s candy sticks are a rarity today, giving way to an endless array of packaged candies and gimmicky brand names. Yet in the present lot, the sweets lay side-by-side, vacant of any branding, beholden to no corporate entity. In thick swaths of white, burnt orange, and sky blue, Thiebaud crafts a neutral space on which his candy sticks lie—the Platonic form of confectionary indulgence. The forms of the candies themselves are so variegated as to lend them distinct personalities, particular to their patterns and color. From right, a black licorice swirl bookends the bunch, allowing the more submissive vanilla, cherry and cream sweets to take center stage in Thiebaud’s composition. But arising with fire out of the central block is an orange and gold piece, a fruity addition to the more restrained favors at its side. At the far left, a holiday-themed peppermint stick bumps shoulders with its lime neighbor, further exhibiting Thiebaud’s excellence in finding pleasing chromatic contrast. Underlying all the sugar is a thin blue curtain of shadow, marrying the lot with a sensual background.

    As Thiebaud found fame with many other Pop artists at the legendary Sidney Janis show in 1962, he chose not to pursue the road of appeasing critics or staying ahead of the ever-shifting curve. He continued to teach, appointing his students to re-create his own subject matter in an effort to instill within them honesty in figure. As Jock Reynolds, the director of the Yale University Art Gallery remembered in 2010, “He was giving his students direct insights into the very subject matter that was inspiring his own art; the frosted cakes, cream pies, lollipops and the trays of herring and sardines he was transforming, through the skilled application of paint onto canvas, into the most tactile and sensuous visual compositions imaginable.” (P. Brown, “Sweet Home California”, The New York Times, September 29, 2010).

    Thiebaud entrusts us with perhaps one of the most difficult puzzles in contemporary art: that of looking with our stomachs first, hearts second, and minds third. Candy Sticks, 1962 is a marvelous accomplishment in Thiebaud’s oeuvre: wholly unapologetic and heavenly delectable.


Candy Sticks

oil on linen
6 7/8 x 9 in. (17.5 x 22.9 cm.)
Signed and dated "Thiebaud 1962" lower left; further signed and titled "Thiebaud 'Candy Sticks'" along the stretcher bar.

$700,000 - 900,000 

Sold for $725,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Stoffel
Head of Day Sale
+1 212 940 1261

Contemporary Art Day Sale

New York 16 May 2014 11am