Framing the food

Henri anticipates exhibit of tasty works of celebrated California painter Wayne Thiebaud

“Dark Cake” and “Neapolitan Meringue”

“Dark Cake” and “Neapolitan Meringue”

Wayne Thiebaud: Works on Paper shows through Nov. 9 at the University Art Gallery. Reception: Oct. 6, 6 p.m. (preceded by 5 p.m. lecture in PAC 134). Also: Confections & Wine, a Thiebaud-inspired dessert/art auction, Oct. 23, 7-9 p.m., in PAC 132. Tickets $20.
University Art Gallery Chico State campus 898-5864

While Henri has never been a fan of most visual art whose subject is food (spare moi the bowls of fruit on the rustic farmhouse kitchen tables! Where’s the still life with cassoulet and crème brûlée?), he has long admired the work of Wayne Thiebaud, whose subjects include far more appetizing dishes, including cakes, pies, pastries and other desserts, as well as gumballs and lollipops.

And so I’ve more than a bit atwitter of late, as Jason Tannen, curator of the University Art Gallery on the Chico State campus, has scheduled a live auction of real desserts based on Thiebaud’s paintings. No offense to Monsieur Cezanne, but Henri cannot in a million years imagine himself in a bidding war over, say, a bowl of apples.

But over a dark chocolate cake? Bring it on!

Especially one that’s made by one of the local bakeries donating desserts to the auction. Real Thiebaud-inspired cakes and pies made by Upper Crust Bakery, Mim’s Bakery, Red Tavern, Sweet Cottage Pies and Tin Roof Bakery and Café, and served on art platters designed by local artists (Dylan Tellesen, Paula Busch, Janice Porter and many more)? The mind reels.

Actually, it turns out that the auction (Oct. 23, 7-9 p.m., PAC, room 132) is just part of a larger Thiebaud event that Tannen has organized, an exhibition of 29 of the painter’s pieces, Wayne Thiebaud: Works on Paper, showing now through Nov. 9 at the University Art Gallery.

Thiebaud (pronounced TEE-bo) is often associated with mid-20th-century pop artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein and in fact was originally inspired by cartoons and comic strips, particularly George Herriman’s Krazy Kat. According to Tannen, though, Thiebaud wasn’t at all interested in irony. “While Warhol’s focus is detached and his surfaces flat,” Tannen says, “Thiebaud revels in the thick painted impasto of frostings. The work reflects a love for the objects he depicts.”

Indeed! While Henri has no idea what “impasto” means, he knows full well what it means to reflect a love for cake—a reflection, in fact, for which I am continually admonished by the well-meaning Dr. Epinards.

Born in 1920 in Mesa, Ariz., Thiebaud has shown work in public collections around the country, including the fine arts museums of San Francisco, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the Smithsonian Institution and has also been featured in national touring exhibitions.

Thiebaud studied art at San Jose State and Sac State, and has spent most of his life and career in Northern California. Many consider him the state’s greatest living artist. He retired from the Art Department at UC Davis in 1990, but continues to teach there as a professor emeritus.

And, beginning Oct. 10, a retrospective of his work—Wayne Thiebaud: Homecoming—will be one of the featured exhibitions at the newly expanded Crocker Museum in Sacramento.

In addition to the auction and the exhibition of Thiebaud’s work, there will be a guest lecture (Oct. 6, 5 p.m., PAC 134, preceding a reception at the gallery), by Philip E. Linhares, chief curator of the Oakland Museum of California. The discussion, Tannen says, will examine Thiebaud’s career “illustrated by examples of signature still lifes, portraits, landscapes and drawings from the late 1950s to the present”—Thiebaud also paints cityscapes (San Francisco), and his landscapes include scenes of northern California.

Proceeds from the auction benefit the University Art Gallery’s summer high school exhibitions, the continuing Modern Masters series (which has also featured Ansel Adams), and a new biennial exhibition featuring Chico-area artists.

Note: winning bidders at the auction can place orders to have their desserts prepared at a later date for a special event or holiday party.

Henri, on the other main, plans to bring his home that evening and enjoy it with a good port—and, if feeling charitable, offer a small piece to Colette.