Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Sacramento Beautiful

Following up on yesterday’s post, this story from the New York Times profiling Sacramento artist Wayne Thiebaud, reveals the harmony of land, people, and climate, we who live here have grown to love, through the eyes and spirit of a great artist.

An excerpt.

“MANY people would consider State Highway 160 to be a why-bother sort of a landscape, an isolated and unremarkable byway atop a levee along the Sacramento River in which the lone landmarks include a ramshackle bait and tackle shop and rusty pipes from an old sugar beet factory.

“But for the artist Wayne Thiebaud, whose paintings luxuriate in the commonplace — be it his signature bakeshop-window cakes and Boston cream pies or a roast chicken twirling on a rotisserie — the Sacramento Delta is fertile ground. Home ground.

“Aren’t the colors marvelous?” he asked one afternoon recently, as if seeing this watery Netherland-like country outside Sacramento for the first time. He will often come here with his artist friends, setting up his French painting easel along the levee. “The river changes almost constantly, from black to brown to coffee color to green to blue,” he said. An hour passed; the water shimmered silver. “It helps fortify your focus,” he observed. John Singer Sargent, he added, “was probably blessed with a photographic memory. But with me, it’s about remembrance — sketching certain types of reflected patterns, different kinds of lighting, then conjuring it up with your memory and imagination.”

“Mr. Thiebaud’s imagined delta landscapes — where azure furrows meld with emerald levees, violet fields and confetti orchards and a river with phosphorescent banks flowing dizzily in several directions — are among the 75 paintings and drawings to be featured in “Homecoming,” a retrospective at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, the city he has called home since the 1950s. The exhibit, on view from Oct. 10 through Nov. 28, coincides with the opening of a 125,000-square-foot wing, designed by Charles Gwathmey and Gwathmey Siegel Associates, that nearly quadruples the museum’s gallery space.

“Mr. Thiebaud (pronounced TEE-bo) — who turns 90 next month — has been the subject of major retrospectives before, most notably the 2000-01 show that originated at the Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco and traveled to the Whitney Museum of American Art and elsewhere. But the Crocker holds a special place in his heart; it was here the first solo museum show of his work, “Influences on a Young Painter,” was held in 1951. “I love the Crocker,” he said, pausing to admire a Thomas Hill panorama of Yosemite Valley shared with generations of his art students. “I’ve stolen many ideas here.”

“Mr. Thiebaud’s affection for a city many Bay Area residents regard as a blur en route to Lake Tahoe — despite its status as the state capital — is long and deep. Like the artist himself, who greets people with a friendly “Howdy,” it is air-kiss-free, an unpretentious Giverny of the California interstate. It is arguably a rather odd place to find a major American artist. (The city’s other international figure, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a part-time interloper from Los Angeles.)

“It is a pretty real place,” mused Mr. Thiebaud, clad as he often is in tennis whites from the doubles match he plays nearly every morning at a neighborhood tennis club, often with men half his age. “There’s a sense of lineage, of families over generations,” he said. “The Gold Rush and the Pony Express made Sacramento a substantial place in terms of enterprise….

“In ways large and small, Mr. Thiebaud’s celebration and appreciation of the ordinary — “the flotsam and jetsam of middle-American life” as the philosopher Richard Wollheim once put it — is resonant of his home turf, the California sense of optimism. “Wayne has the character of this place in his bones,” said Lial Jones, the director of the Crocker. “There’s a directness about him, an ease, a humbleness.”