Nonfiction Monday: Artist Wayne Thiebaud, Painting What is Overlooked, and Cakes, Cakes, Glorious Cakes

h1 February 18th, 2008 by jules

Valentine’s Day may have passed, but since you’re probably still reeling from (or still eating) some of the delicious treats that are part and parcel of the holiday, I thought I’d tell you on this Nonfiction Monday about Delicious: The Life & Art of Wayne Thiebaud by Susan Goldman Rubin and published by Chronicle Books in December of last year. In May of ’07, Rubin brought us — also via Chronicle Books — a board book for the wee-est of children (reviewed here at 7-Imp) of the art of Wayne Thiebaud, an American painter born in 1920 whose work is associated with the Pop Art movement. This time she gives us an over-one-hundred-page look at his life, officially geared at ages 9 to 12.

My heart belongs to any painter who has been quoted as saying, “Cakes, they are glorious, they are like toys.” Yes, Thiebaud is probably best known for turning to paintings of gumballs, cupcakes, pies, cakes, and other culinary ecstasies.

My heart also belongs to Rubin, known for a handful of other great books about art for children (such as, this one about Edward Hopper, pictured here), who takes the subject matter of Wayne’s life and how and why he makes his art — as well as the broader role of contemporary art — and makes it comprehensible to children without condescending to them.

Rubin’s book documents Thiebaud’s life and career. Thibaud — also once quoted as saying, “I try to find things to paint which I feel have been overlooked” — spent the beginning of his artistic career at Walt Disney Studios while still a high schooler. After a stint in the air force, he made his living as a cartoonist and commercial artist. But, after not getting anywhere as a cartoonist, he turned his attention and interests to fine art. Mentoring under artist Robert Mallary (and eventually Willem de Kooning), Thiebaud decided to show his paintings in art galleries and then followed that in 1949 with a return to college to study art and a teaching position at Sacramento Junior College. Rubin takes us through Thibaud’s journey of eventually coming to understand the objects he truly wished to paint and his embarrassment over not being taken seriously, over “painting such silly things”:

Wayne worked entirely from memory. He remembered the hot dogs, hamburgers, and ice-cream cones on the Long Beach boardwalk. “This is mostly the food every American child has been brought up on,” he said. Wayne remembered family picnics with homemade pies and cakes . . . {He} painted with thick brush strokes. Swirls of white, pink, lemon, and chocolate brown in Four Cupcakes look like the frosting itself.

'Three Machines' (1963), by Wayne Thiebaud. De Young Museum, San Francisco; Image in the public domain, according to

“Three Machines” (1963), by Wayne Thiebaud. De Young Museum, San Francisco. Image in the public domain.

Finally, Rubin explains, Thiebaud’s big break of sorts came in 1962 when gallery-owner Allan Stone offered him a one-man show and “East Coast critics recognized Wayne as a great new talent.” And the rest, as they say, is history, as Thiebaud had fully come to embrace his own, singular artistic vision and style.

This, it probably goes without saying, is one kickin’ message for young children, whether artists or not and whether fans of Thiebaud’s paintings or not. “Find something you want to paint. Something you really love,” Rubin quotes him as saying . . . as well as:

“Painting and drawing is something you can enjoy without it having to be art or worrying about it being art. . . . Everybody should have that privilege and that great way of knowing things.”

I made that font a tad larger, just as Rubin does in her book, bringing out Rubin quotes, food-for-thought, for the child reader. It’s well-done and well-designed, and overall this is a well-researched book, Rubin explaining in the opening author’s note that she had the great fortune of meeting Thiebaud as well as emailing him questions for which he provided answers on a cassette tape and sent to her.

An accessible, inspiring, and reverent introduction to the work and life of one of the twentieth century’s most memorable American artists.

9 comments to “Nonfiction Monday: Artist Wayne Thiebaud, Painting What is Overlooked, and Cakes, Cakes, Glorious Cakes”

  1. I’ve been meaning to review this all week, but now I don’t need to. It’s a fab bio, a fab artists bio, and Chronicle put it together nicely. Don’t you just want to lick some of those pages?

  2. David, yes, Chronicle put it together very nicely. It’s a beautifully-designed book. One could devote an entire post to the design itself.

  3. *jumping for joy*
    LOVE Wayne Thiebaud. Discovered him several years ago, when I was looking for some wall art for our new house. Yay for food as art and art featuring food!

  4. […] 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast (Delicious:The Life and Art of Wayne Thiebaud) 9. World of Words (Walt Whitman: Words for America) 10. Tricia (It’s Moving Day!) 11. A Fuse […]

  5. This book looks totally yummy, J. I’ll have to find it. Thanks for the review!

  6. I almost bought this book recently. Wayne Thiebaud is awesome! I’ll never forget seeing a guest lecture by him in one of my undergraduate art history classes. He’s got a funny, quirky sense of humor and is a virtuoso painter. Thanks for this review! Looks like I’ll have scrounge up some money and go buy this after all!

  7. This looks good enough to eat. Must get cupcakes before the Oscars start!

  8. i love his work

  9. Hi,
    I have to do a art project for school and I had t find some art critics quotes about Wayne Thiebaud. So I used some of your quotes so according to me your now art critics. (no afence if you are actually an art critic.
    Thanks, bye.

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