Reinventing the traditional still-life genre to reflect the age of mass production and consumption, Thiebaud’s compositions retain a nuanced dialogue with art history. Indeed, the complex balance and harmony present on the surface of Fruit Stand allude to a modern fascination with the colour theories of Paul Cézanne. Like his predecessor, Thiebaud looks to the mechanical contingencies of colour, as vibrant hues of red, yellow, orange and green are juxtaposed against cornflower blue shadows; a chromatic variation that endows the present work with an unparalleled liveliness that far surpasses what is expected of an otherwise prosaic subject matter. Thiebaud’s painterly brushwork and radiating colours further recall the whimsical still lifes of Pierre Bonnard, in which extravagant baskets of fruit and buffets of pastries are rendered in soft, pastel hues. Bonnard, too, explored the complexities of light and shadow throughout his work in this genre, and both artists’ compositions exhibit foreshortened angles, flattened expanses, and a clever delineation between light and dark.
Thiebaud is fundamentally a draughtsman, and the significance of drawing, caricature and cartoon is evident on the surface of Fruit Stand. In the summer of 1936 Thiebaud worked briefly as an animator at the Walt Disney Studios in California, before joining the Air Force as a poster designer between 1942 and 1945. He continued to work as a commercial designer for several advertising agencies after his tenure in the military, and began teaching in Sacramento in 1950. The precipice between commercial and fine art is therefore persistently explored throughout Thiebaud’s oeuvre, and it is for this reason that he is most often remembered as a Pop artist. Yet Thiebaud differs from his contemporaries such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg; his aim is not to criticise American society, but rather to celebrate and remember it. While Andy Warhol’s soup cans present a cynical and ironic commentary on consumerism in post-war America, Thiebaud’s delightful images of every-day objects are careful and sincere – their very aim is to invoke a real and pure pleasure or a shared nostalgia. Finding beauty in the commonplace, Fruit Stand exquisitely presents Thiebaud’s captivating exploration into the transient joys, delights and sentimentality of American life in the 1960s.
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