Thiebaud (pronounced tee-bow) may be the hardest-working artist in America. The Crocker's retrospective this past fall, "Wayne Thiebaud: Homecoming," honored the longtime resident and coincided with a milestone—he turned 90 in November. But the painter seems many years younger. A legendary teacher at nearby University of California at Davis, he retired at age 70 but has continued to give his hugely popular classes as professor emeritus. Friends say his energy hasn't flagged. Indeed, he draws or paints nearly every day and plays tennis about three times a week.
In a contemporary art world enthralled with such stunts as Damien Hirst's diamond-encrusted skull, Thiebaud is wonderfully ungimmicky. He belongs more to a classical tradition of painting than to the Pop revolution that first propelled him to national attention in the 1960s. Then, the sweet everydayness of his cake and pie pictures looked like cousins of Andy Warhol's soup cans. But where Warhol was cool and ironic, Thiebaud was warm and gently comic, playing on a collective nostalgia just this side of sentimentality. He pushed himself as a painter—experimenting with brushstrokes, color, composition, light and shadow. The cylindrical cakes and cones of ice cream owed more to such masters of the still life as the 18th-century French painter Chardin, or the 20th-century Italian Giorgio Morandi, as critics have pointed out, than to the art trends of the time.