Galleries — Have It Your Way

Wayne Thiebaud serves up 70 years of abundance at the Palm Springs Art Museum.

Known for applying thick layers of paint like so much icing on the cakes and desserts that made his still-life paintings famous, Wayne Thiebaud (born 1920) occupies a populist place in American art history.

The survey exhibition Wayne Thiebaud: 70 Years of Painting (Feb. 11-May 17) includes more than 100 works demonstrating the evolution of the artist’s personal artistic vision, exploring close-to-home subjects and stylistic variations that consistently blend realism and abstraction in a painterly fashion and with sensuous movement of oils and pastels.

Thiebaud also has specialized in large-scale portraits, studies of Northern California landscape, and cityscapes featuring San Francisco’s vertiginous geometry of streets and sidewalks.

“It was the cafeteria-type foods, of course, the cakes, pies, ice creams, hamburgers, hotdogs, canapes, club sandwiches, and other staples of the American diet — all of which have a stereotypical this-can-be-found-anywhere-in-the-country-but-only-in-this-country quality — that brought Thiebaud most of his early notoriety,” museum Director Steven Nash wrote in Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective (Thames & Hudson, 2000). “This signature style of Thiebaud’s paint handling — the rich, smooth dragging of paint across a surface or around a shape in a way that both proclaims the luscious texture of oils and often transforms itself into the very material being depicted, from frosting or whipped cream to metal — is referred to by the artist as ‘object transference.’”

Thiebaud’s paintings, Nash says, “also comment on the abundance that is part of American society and the longing or desires that go with it: desserts lined up in rows stretching far into the distance like trees in a landscape but held separate from the viewer by the glass of window or case.”

Bruce Cohen — Imago Galleries, Palm Desert

Generally associated with contemporary realism (a movement that reacted to Abstract Expressionism that once prevailed in postwar U.S. art), Santa Monica painter Bruce Cohen stands out in the genre for his meticulous compartmentalization and use of light and shadow. Precision, juxtaposition of muted and bright colors, and curious open doors and windows distinguish his canvases.

Charlie Bidwell — Exposure Gallery, Palm Springs

A master of using negative space in his photographic compositions, Bidwell is best known for his Americana images of 1950s signs and billboards. Familiar with many works reflecting iconic Southern California views (the Hollywood sign and the Ferris wheel in Santa Monica, for example), we’re eager to see his new work: a series of black-and-white abstract photographs involving alternative processing systems.

Theodore Waddell — J. Willot Gallery, Palm Desert

Abstraction of the human figure came to define so much Modern art. Waddell, a Montana rancher who makes cattle and horses his subjects, renders these figures in Post-Impressionist landscapes, with thick strokes of paint, resulting in canvases that resolve classic figure/ground relationships in a style that appeals beyond traditional Western painting. His paintings’ crossover appeal power his exhibition history, which spans more than 40 years.

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