Wayne Thiebaud, ‘Bananas’, 1963, Sotheby's: Contemporary Art Day Auction

From the Catalogue

Wayne Thiebaud's lushly painted images of confectionary delicacies and common objects launched him into the international art scene of the early 1960s. His images, despite depicting banal food and commercial items, challenged traditionally perceived notions of representation and abstraction. In the artist's Bananas from 1963, the ripe yellow fruit transforms beyond objecthood and into a study on form, color, volume, light and shadow. Thiebaud's still-lifes are as much nostalgic snap shots as they are explorations of materiality and paint.

Thiebaud was initially aligned with the Pop Art movement because of his choice of commercial objects as subjects. In comparing the concerns of Pop artists with those of Thiebaud, however, there is an essential distinction to be made. Pop artists adopted a detached point of view, utilizing mediums that effectively eliminate the artist’s hand. By contrast, Thiebaud was fascinated by how subtle manipulations of paint can transform the visual perception of the objects portrayed.

The quotidian edibles depicted in Thiebaud’s pictures act as a vehicle for the artist to play with color, light and composition. In Bananas, the flat white background exaggerates the frontal, central placement of the bunch. The surface on which the bananas rest is only implied by the piercing horizontal blue and orange line which divides the canvas. Pulsating with an unusual energy, the bananas vibrate from the juxtaposition of the warm and cool tones that line their edges. These electric hues extend to the color of the exaggerated and saturated shadows that also work to define the depth of the composition, lending an air of nostalgia to the work. The subject matter calls to mind Giorgio de Chirico's 1913 masterpiece The Uncertainty of the Poet, permanently housed at the Tate Museum in London. De Chirico integrated bananas in several of his most successful works as a means to anchor his dream-like scenes to the immediate and real contemporary world. Upright, perky, and perfectly ripe, Thiebaud's Bananas pay homage to the Surrealist master, inviting the viewer to both embrace the sentimental familiarity of the subject while focusing on its reduced objectivity. Simultaneously representational and abstract, Bananas is an excellent example of the heart of Thiebaud’s artistic practice and his ability to transform a common object into an engaging and complex painting.

Courtesy of Sotheby's

Signature: signed and dated 1963; signed and dated 1963 on the stretcher

Allan Stone Gallery, New York
Christoff Thurman, New York (acquired from the above in 1964)
Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 1980

About Wayne Thiebaud

Best known for his paintings of cakes, pies, pastries, and toys, Wayne Thiebaud hadn’t planned on becoming a visual artist. He apprenticed as a cartoonist at Walt Disney studios and intended to work as a commercial illustrator, but his friend Robert Mallary turned him towards a career in fine art. Thiebaud was friendly with Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning, but avoided their Abstract Expressionism in favor of a figural style. Though Thiebaud is most often grouped with the Pop art movement for his subject matter, the artist considers himself “just an old fashioned painter,” and “not a card carrying Pop artist.” He remains best known for his still lifes of confections—sometimes painted from his own memories—which he considers interpretations of “Americanness.” In his works, objects and their shadows are characteristically outlined in multiple colors, creating a visual effect Thiebaud calls akin to vibration.

American, b. 1920, Mesa, Arizona, based in San Francisco, California