Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

City Streets That Plunge and Curve

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

City Streets That Plunge and Curve

Article excerpt

DURING the 1960s, Wayne Thiebaud became famous for painting simple objects. He has given us row upon row of lipsticks, pies, and club sandwiches, and his admirers find those paintings easy to like. Thiebaud might say that it wasn't easy to paint those simple- looking pictures, but he would agree that his pies and hot dogs suggest that the world is a comfortable, safe place.

Most of his landscape paintings look as stable as his still lifes. The pale green grass of northern California lies like a carpet over hills that are not very different from his cakes. In Thiebaud's best-known and best-loved paintings, any solid object is much like another, and the whole world is there for our enjoyment.

Over the past 15 years, however, he has also been painting marvelously complicated views of San Francisco. He likes to do the same subjects over and over, with an artist's hope that he will finally get one painting completely right. At the same time, he is afraid of becoming staid and conventional, and in the streets of San Francisco he has found a subject that allows him to indulge his craving for adventure.

The idea came to him out of real life. In 1974, he and his wife bought a house in San Francisco. For more than 30 years he had lived in Sacramento whose topography is relatively flat. San Francisco is famous for its steep hills, and when Thiebaud took walks in his new neighborhood he could hardly overlook the bizarre angles at which streets came together.

His first thought was to go outside with an easel and set down on canvas the fantastic environment in which he lived. Captured one brushstroke at a time, however, the precise reality of San Francisco turned out to be less exhilarating than Thiebaud had hoped. The city of his daydreams still existed, but as a painter he felt weighed down by the details of a truck or a tree that might be in front of him. …

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