Wayne Thiebaud, ‘Steep Street’, 1989, SFMOMA Modern Ball Auction 2014

Estimated value: $12,000-$17,000. Few artists capture the real and fantastical beauty of San Francisco as deftly as Wayne Thiebaud. Steep Street, a 1989 etching created in the studios of the renowned Crown Point Press, showcases Thiebaud’s unique approach to rendering the city’s signature terrain, freely conflating the geometry of streets and buildings, undulating topography, and ethereal, sherbet-hued light in a magical composition.

Published by Crown Point Press

Few artists capture both the real and the fantastical beauty of San Francisco as deftly as Wayne Thiebaud. The artist’s long affinity for the city has fostered an intimacy with its hills, streets, and buildings, which he translates into magical compositions that straddle the line between representation and abstraction, freely conflating architectural and topographical features to construct scenes at once recognizable and illusory.

Steep Street, a 1989 etching created in the studios of San Francisco’s renowned Crown Point Press, showcases not only Thiebaud’s technical talent, but also his unique approach to rendering the city’s signature terrain—an impossibly steep promontory, the geometric angles of streets and buildings, the undulating crags of the hill’s silhouette, and an ethereal, sherbet-hued light. Thiebaud’s San Francisco is uncannily familiar even as it evades literal representation.

Over the course of a more than seventy-year career, Thiebaud has earned a place in many of the most prominent public and private art collections around the world, as well as honors such as the National Medal of Arts (1994), the Distinguished Artists Achievement Award from the California Society of Printmakers (1995), a Lifetime Achievement Award for Art from the American Academy of Design (2001), and SFMOMA’s Bay Area Treasure Award (2006). SFMOMA has the distinction of hosting Thiebaud’s first local solo exhibition in 1960, as well as a career retrospective corresponding with the museum’s fiftieth-anniversary celebration in 1985.

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