The Art: Four Cupcakes
The Artist: Wayne Thiebaud

About the Work:

Don’t think of Wayne Thiebaud as a pop artist.

Sure, his subjects – food, cosmetics, trinkets – might have that same mundane cultural significance as artists like Warhol, but the intent is entirely different.

Painting in a way nobody ever has before, Thiebaud has been known to spend years, even decades, slowly crafting deceptively simple art that challenges the viewer to explore his depiction of the world.

From the subtle, multicoloured outlining of the objects, to the bold shadowing, the elements of Thiebaud’s work seen here in Four Cupcakes is disarmingly emotional, yet never explicitly so. There’s a weight to it, as well as a surreal darkness, that makes you feel like you could stare at the piece for hours and still come nowhere close to comprehending the haunting undertones.

It’s a far cry from Thiebaud’s early work. Aspiring to become a cartoonist, he apprenticed at Disney before a stint as a poster designer for Universal Studios eventually pushed him towards more commercial work.

“At one point, all I wanted to be was a red hot, highly paid advertising art director”, he told The Smithsonian, before a friend asked him whether money and fame were truly all important to him.

[He] showed me how dumb I was—how limited and off course I was about what was important in life.”

Buoyed by a new understanding about his work, Thiebaud started teaching, and creating the art we know and love today. Now 98, he continues to paint. Only last year, he revealed Fall Fields, a piece he started all the way back in 1962.

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