Thiebaud’s trea­sures

Artist ex­plains his love for eight works from SFMOMA’s col­lec­tion

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - DATEBOOK - By Charles Des­marais

In a time when the arts and hu­man­i­ties are less and less re­spected, be­cause those es­sen­tial fields are so lit­tle un­der­stood, “Wayne Thiebaud: Artist’s Choice” is the kind of ex­hi­bi­tion we need more of. It’s on view at the San Fran­cisco Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art through March 10. Take a bril­liant artist who is also wildly pop­u­lar, and ask him to share what he loves about pic­tures many peo­ple might not give a sec­ond glance. Here, we look at eight of his choices. The texts, the mu­seum says, are se­lected from dis­cus­sions with Thiebaud on vis­its to his stu­dio, in April and July. All the works are in SFMOMA’s per­ma­nent col­lec­tion, which is to say that they are Bay Area trea­sures, pre­served for their own sake but also for just such a les­son in the im­pact of art his­tory on the work­ing artist.

Max Beck­mann (Ger­man, 1884-1950), “Die Land­schaft, Cannes (Land­scape, Cannes)” (1934) “This is sort of a par­adise that he’s paint­ing, in a way. Beck­mann is so heavy most of the time. This looks like he wanted an es­cape. It’s a ter­rific paint­ing, although for me, pretty atyp­i­cal, es­pe­cially that cen­tral space that he’s got. Usu­ally I find his paint­ings al­most un­com­fort­ably crowded, to great ef­fect. You’re a part of his crowd. But this — I could take a walk with him. He’s man­aged to do his own gar­den there, with his own palm trees.” Elmer Bischoff (Amer­i­can, 1916-91), “Or­ange Sweater” (1955) “You can al­most feel, since it’s a li­brary, that it’s a very quiet place. Beau­ti­ful light com­ing in from sev­eral di­rec­tions. There is a nice color re­la­tion­ship be­tween the green and the lit­tle tiny bit of or­ange shadow over her sweater. But it’s also a very good geo­met­ric ab­strac­tion: the way those hor­i­zon­tals and ver­ti­cals work and that ter­rific an­gle. This is re­ally beau­ti­ful — the way this pat­tern of light com­ing down from the top and across in a nice L-shape forms one il­lu­mi­na­tion.” Joan Brown (Amer­i­can, 1938-90), “Green Bowl” (1964) “You got this enor­mous amount of felt pres­sure. There is a lot of flat­ten­ing or plano­met­ric push­ing, and that’s re­ally sat­is­fy­ing to me, when planes are com­fort­ably flat. All paint­ing is cu­bist be­cause the pic­ture plane is so im­por­tant, even in a to­tally il­lu­sion­is­tic, vol­u­met­ric space, like ( Jo­hannes) Ver­meer’s. His pic­tures also have a lot to do with that won­der­ful flat­ten­ing that I

like so much. That funny busi­ness of paint­ing be­ing flat.” Willem de Koon­ing (Amer­i­can, born the Nether­lands, 1904-97) “The Springs” (1955)

“Sim­ply stated, one of my he­roes — I was very much in­flu­enced by de Koon­ing. He was prob­a­bly the best trained artist in all of New York. He taught me about rigor; he al­ways had trou­ble get­ting some­thing that he called ‘right.’ Here, you see this nice warm golden pink light up high and from the right, like Rem­brandt (van Rijn). H ewasa won­der­ful drafts­man.” An­dré Derain (French, 1880-1954) “Na­ture morte aux fruits” (”Still Life with Fruit”) (c. 1937-39) “This paint­ing is ac­tu­ally a lit­tle land­scape, isn’t it? Derain brings in the light and an al­most cloudy back­ground. He just makes the light come and go. Marvelous the way he’s built that sculp­tural shape at the cen­ter of the axis. If turned up­side down it hangs like a chan­de­lier . ... Look­ing at a paint­ing up­right, it’s ei­ther a pleas­ant or un­pleas­ant sur­prise when you turn it up­side down. It helps to qual­ify how the space is work­ing be­cause we as pain­ters tend to ra­tio­nal­ize space.” Henri Matisse (French, 1869-1954) “La con­ver­sa­tion” (”The Con­ver­sa­tion”) (1938)

“I like this draw­ing that he does, in­tro­duc­ing a kind of mixed me­dia. It says some­thing to re­mind me how im­por­tant draw­ing is — to the point when some artists never leave draw­ing. (Vin­cent) van Gogh would be an ex­am­ple. He would just draw those paint­ings, as far as I’m con­cerned. This is so nice be­cause it’s so beau­ti­fully dec­o­ra­tive. All those nice flat shapes and then that lin­ear de­scrip­tion I find re­ally cap­ti­vat­ing.” John McLaugh­lin (Amer­i­can, 18981976) “#6-1959” (1959)

“McLaugh­lin wanted you to look a cer­tain way. There’s a sort of sec­ondary and third vi­sion you get when you stare at this. I t’s the kind of work, if you lived with it at home, ev­ery time you play mu­sic and look at the paint­ing there would be a new kind of can­tata. It’s so fun­da­men­tal, that purist aes­thetic. That the­o­ret­i­cally eter­nally cor­rect re­la­tion­ship was al­ways im­pres­sive, par­tic­u­larly for me be­cause I didn’t go to art school. McLaugh­lin, one of the few work­ing in that vein, was sort of the grand­fa­ther of it.”

All the works are in SFMOMA’s per­ma­nent col­lec­tion, pre­served for just such a les­son in the im­pact of art his­tory on the work­ing artist.

Kather­ine Du Tiel / © Richard Diebenkorn Foun­da­tion

Liz Hafalia / The Chron­i­cle

Wayne Thiebaud pro­vides his take on se­lected paint­ings.

Ben Black­well / © Willem de Koon­ing Foun­da­tion / Artists Rights So­ci­ety

“The Springs” is a work by Willem de Koon­ing, one of Thiebaud’s he­roes.

Ben Black­well / © Suc­ces­sion H. Matisse / Artist Rights So­ci­ety

Henri Matisse uses draw­ing tech­niques in “La con­ver­sa­tion.”

Ben Black­well / © Es­tate of Elmer Bischoff

Elmer Bischoff ’s “Or­ange Sweater” de­picts light from many di­rec­tions.

© Artists Rights So­ci­ety / ADAGP

“Na­ture morte aux fruits” is by the French painter An­dré Derain.

Kather­ine Du Tiel / © Artists Rights So­ci­ety / VG Bild-Kunst Bonn

“Die Land­schaft, Cannes,” by Max Beck­mann, is “sort of a par­adise.”

Kather­ine Du Tiel / © Es­tate of John McLaugh­lin

John McLaugh­lin’s “#6-1959” shows off a purist aes­thetic.

Kather­ine Du Tiel / © Es­tate of Joan Brown

Brown’s “Green Bowl” uses flat­ten­ing.

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