There is, perhaps, no artist in the annals of history who has represented the landscape of American confection with the delicious commitment of Wayne Thiebaud. Born in Arizona in 1920, he worked at Walt Disney Studios for a time and was later employed as a cartoonist for the U.S. Air Forces, and he is celebrated for delectable, whipped-pastel compositions that have come to depict a certain symbolic reality of the 1950s and ’60s in this country. Generally defined by an indulgent use of saturated color—bubblegum-bright cherries, glowing swathes of cake frosting—his images compellingly refine a historic moment typically defined by chastity, etiquette and repressed desire, distilled through the frame of soda shoppes and ice cream parlors into iconic images of comestible craving.
Despite his world renown, Thiebaud is lesser known for his stunning monochromatic works in black and white—from prints and etchings to mixed-media works on paper. Now, two distinct exhibitions at Allan Stone Projects in New York aim to even out that imbalance, presenting a substantial selection of spare, graphic compositions that attest to artist’s command of line, shape, and negative space.
“In Black and White” unites 20 unique works on paper made between 1961–1996. Spanning a vast range of subjects from food and objects, to urban and rural landscapes and figures, the works on view demonstrate Thiebaud’s master draftsmanship and the variety of his gestural capacities. Untitled (eye glasses) (1970) is a delicate grid of skillfully rendered lines, as the spheres of lenses and the various curves of arms and nose-bridges mingle against a blank page. The gallery’s concurrent show of prints, meanwhile, presents nine lithographs, etchings, silkscreens, and woodblocks from ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. “There’s nothing really that I’ve ever found in other lines that is like an etched line,” Thiebaud once stated, “its fidelity, the richness of it, the density. You just don’t get that any other way.”
Ultimately, these denuded, monochromatic compositions take his life’s work one step further. They reduce his signature brand of loaded content—powerfully encoded with a specific time and place—to the evocative bi-tones of an old photograph, formally suffusing the surface of each image with the nostalgia it undeniably evokes.