DAN NADEL | DATE 4/15/2014
There's nothing so satisfying for me as hearing or reading an artist unfurling the tangled strands of their art history, biography and ideas in casual conversation. In the case of Wayne Thiebaud in Black Square Editions' new release, Episodes with Wayne Thiebaud, it's doubly satisfying since, despite the seeming ubiquity of his images, the man himself has mostly remained silent, preferring the paintings to speak for themselves. Two former students, the painters Eve Aschheim and Chris Daubert, set out to remedy this via four lengthy interviews (the titular episodes) from 2009 to 2011. Thiebaud emerges as voluble, modest, and quietly cool on these pages, as he recounts his early days in Sacramento, his visits to New York, and his own pantheon of art historical heroes, about whom he is insightful and, even at age 93, with whom he is still clearly enamored. Best of all, and what makes this book delightful and even essential, is the way he deftly moves from modest theory to first-hand knowledge, as in this passage on how paintings function in different spaces:
"When I go to Charlie Campbell's house, for instance, it's very interesting the way his house is full of paintings and pre-Columbian art and everything he loves, but the nice thing is that almost every time you go, they've changed the arrangements. It's fascinating the way the paintings in various ways function differently from one another. The only thing that interests me about a painting's function is the expectancy factor, what it can do and what it really can't do. I remember de Kooning saying, 'Goddamn people are going to break the back of painting. They're expecting so many things it can't do.' And he says on the other hand, 'What it can do is miraculous, that you have to believe in those miracles, and you have to understand what they are.'
Why does the blue function as it does? And learning to read and live in paintings, if that isn't happening on the level of what it really can do, then painting is something else entirely: it's a social instrument, an illustration, a story. But that's not painting for people who love painting. You love the paint. What's that little gob there, you know? Why it can function as it does, and how come you can make glass out of paint, and also pork chops, and crystalline, and silver? And can you make everything out of paintings? Damn near."
Those two paragraphs span a lot of mental space, and so does this amply illustrated and very handsome book. Thiebaud is the kind of conversationalist who makes you want to stay a while.
Featured image, "Half-Dome and Cloud" (1975; mountain painted from life, with invented cloud), is reproduced from Black Square Editions' Episodes with Wayne Thiebaud.
BLACK SQUARE EDITIONS
Pbk, 6.5 x 8.5 in. / 106 pgs / 19 color.