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By Karen Nikos-Rose on November 21, 2019

By Leigh Houck, News and Media Relations Intern

There’s only a week left to see the first exhibition commemorating Wayne Thiebaud’s century on earth. (Two more exhibitions are planned in the region through 2021.) The John Natsoulas Gallery in downtown Davis is running Wayne Thiebaud Exhibition from Wednesday through  Saturday Nov. 30.  Thiebaud is a nationally renowned Sacramento artist and professor emeritus of the Art Department at the University of California, Davis. The retrospective exhibition coincides with Thiebaud’s 99th birthday, which was Nov. 15.

The exhibition comprises the entire first floor of the John Natsoulas Gallery. The works are all on paper, but were created using a variety of different media: from blue felt pen on paper, oil on canvas, and lithographs, to HardPoint and Drypoint Etching, serigraph color woodcut, direct gravure with Aquatint, and more.

Food and landscapes highlight his popular work

Many pieces in this exhibition fall in two main themes: still lifes of food, and landscapes. The food ranges from sweet “Cupcakes” dripping with frosting to savory “Meat Counter.” Landscapes include cityscapes depicting urban life from afar, using a zoomed-out or bird’s eye view. The large oil on canvas painting “Palm Street” greets visitors walking into the main gallery. Colorful buildings and long shadows meet in an unexpected and funky perspective: cars look like they might fall off a steeply sloping road. Other landscapes like “Reservoir” and “Night Landscape” feature floodplains and fields reminiscent of Sacramento’s natural spaces.

However, there are some outliers whose subjects fall outside these two themes. In the entrance hallway, the right wall features “Seven Dogs” frolicking on a spacious, blank background. Once in the main room, a lithograph of a clown hangs on the left wall, and a lithograph of a bird hangs on the right. An array of gaily patterned bow ties hang perpendicular.

The works on display span over 70 years. In his early life, Thiebaud was a cartoonist, even working as an animator for Disney. “Jo”, a 1939 ink-on-paper piece, is distinctively stylized as Disney. The most recent piece in the exhibition, 76 years after the oldest piece, is “Counter Woman” from 2015. 

Eagle-eyed visitors will observe several patterns in the lifetime of pieces. His earlier works are colorful and bright, while more recent works are often rendered in black and white. “Toy Counter”, a linoleum cut print from 1970, is full of bold, Pixar-reminiscent colors. “Counter Woman” (2015) is entirely in black and white. Common to almost every piece? A distinct use of shadow, rendered in scribbled pen, crosshatch engraving, or swathes of paint.

Entering and leaving, guests will pass through a hallway of Wayne Thiebaud memorabilia. The gallery offers a variety of souvenirs for Thiebaud fans to purchase. The selection includes calendars, cards, and coffee-table books adorned with the artist’s most recognizable and colorful pieces.

For visitors looking for a memento larger than a bookmark, a selection of the pieces in the exhibition are for sale. Prices range from $400 for a Giclee print of “Four Cupcakes” to $23,000 for “Desserts,” an original 1966 hard point and drypoint etching.

So go feast your eyes on “Cupcakes” and “Dark Chocolate.” The exhibition represents a lifetime of work. On one piece, Thiebaud’s signature is accompanied with a heart. You’ll have to go to the exhibition to find it for yourself.

If you don't catch this gallery exhibition, you will have to travel to Sacramento for the Crocker Art Museum's own celebration of the artist in 2020 or wait until 2021 to enjoy UC Davis Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum's exhibition, which will examine his influence on a new generation of artists. 

John Natsoulas Gallery hours here

Learn more about the exhibition and Thiebaud here


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