- Wayne Thiebaud
- Fudge and Divinity
- signed and dated 1962; signed on the stretcher
- oil on canvas
- 16 by 20 in. 40.6 by 50.8 cm.
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1962
New York, Allan Stone Gallery, Wayne Thiebaud: Recent Paintings, April 1963
Pasadena Art Museum; Minneapolis, Walker Art Center; Cincinnati, The Contemporary Art Center; San Francisco Museum of Art; Salt Lake City, Utah Museum of Fine Arts of the University of Utah, Wayne Thiebaud, February - October 1968
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Wayne Thiebaud: A Painting Retrospective, June - September 2001
New York, Allan Stone Gallery, Wayne Thiebaud Since 1962: A Survey, April - May 2005
Depicting an immaculate row of sweets rendered in sumptuous eddies of impasto, the central elements in Fudge and Divinity rupture the monochrome ground, delicately segueing between extravagance and restraint in a manner that is exemplary of the very best of Thiebaud’s praxis. The two forms are portrayed with assured simplicity and a subtle ambiguity that serves to ignite our imagination. Though appearing at first glance like realistic depictions of confectionary, the shapes seem to morph into abstract modernist forms or monolithic architectural structures that tower over an empty landscape. Yet these powerful structural elements give way to deep, arresting shadows that are saturated in the same nostalgic sentiment as we might expect to find in a Hollywood sunset, and the rippling, sugary surfaces reverberate with the memories of childhood yearning.
Thiebaud’s choice of mass produced, highly desirable and unmistakably American consumer products echo the same democratic abundance that Andy Warhol would later observe in the ubiquity of Coca Cola: "All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it" (Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, Boston, 1975, p. 101). Indeed Thiebaud has often been cited as an important influence on the Pop art movement and a precursor to many significant works by Warhol who began his Soup Can series the very year the present work was created. Likewise, the formal composition of Fudge and Divinity mirrors that commonly found in advertisements, with tight cropping, high contrast, strong focus, and enhanced perspective that make the items pulsate and appear larger than life. Along with his use of repetition and serial images in his oeuvre, Thiebaud uses this gesture to deftly parody the industry of commercial image making in which he formatively worked as well as the mass-production that pervades American manufacturing. Thiebaud however stops short of criticizing commonplace and repetitive imagery, and instead allows the superficial similarities and consequent minute differences found within his works to be celebrated. As the artist himself concedes, “It interests me because of the consciousness of simultaneity – of how much alike we are, how close we are to one another and how rare it is to come across distinctions of any sort. It is one of the ways I think about art…it is full of little discriminations and little insights which are terribly important and only a very few individuals ever think about them” (Exh. Cat., Pasadena Art Museum (and travelling), Wayne Thiebaud, 1968, p. 26).
That Thiebaud is drawn to creating visually arresting works through his use of seriality is clear, however the artist does not intend to overtly imply social commentary here. With seemingly effortless wit, works such as Fudge and Divinity instead ask the viewer to embrace familiarity whilst inviting a focus on objectivity – the particular textures, colors and shapes depicted – in order to get to the very architecture of the image. And yet the nature of Thiebaud’s medium allows him to go a step further. The monumental central forms are caked in layers of voracious, buttery impasto that tantalizingly simulate the material surfaces of the sweets they depict. Indeed the paint in the present work appears to almost leap from the white ground, physically reaching from the canvas to make the depicted treats that bit more enticing. It is with this wry trick of the brush that Thiebaud at once assumes the role of objectivist and expressionist; his forms are so reduced and clinical that they seem almost illusory, yet his vibrant and impassioned handling of paint makes them inviting, palpable, and almost real enough to touch.