Born in 1920, artist Wayne Thiebaud (pronounced tee-bo) will celebrate his 87th birthday next month, and there will certainly be enough cake to go around. You know this celebrated California artist's work, even if you don't think you do. Now-iconic paintings of birthday cakes, pies, pastries and all variety of garishly colorful sugar-frosted baked goods established Thiebaud's early reputation as a pre-Pop artist who celebrated the emotional temperament of a particular moment—the 1960s—with irony, wit and perhaps even a sticky nostalgia for a previous one.
From the industrial bakery, he then strolled down the boardwalk to the pier. Here, pinball machines, arcade games, saltwater-taffy machines, gumball machines, weird desserts and bathing beauties got the same colorful treatment, with Thiebaud turning his sardonic or sincere (or both) gaze, lovingly, on human subjects. His later paintings, including San Francisco cityscapes and Sacramento Delta landscapes, seem to take the vivid colors from the bakery palette and add an overstated geometry, so that you are never quite sure you want to visit those famous California places—because you might just fall off. In ribbony riverways and exaggerated hills, sometimes vertiginous streets and lovingly disorienting man-made and natural landscapes, this grand master of the Figurative Movement revises perspective and topography with wit and color, as in “Winding River” and “San Francisco West Side Ridge,” both of which manage somehow to look nothing like what they are meant to represent, yet they are instantly recognizable.
“Wayne Thiebaud: 70 Years of Painting” at Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Dr., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-8971; www.lagunaartmuseum.org. Open daily, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; first Thurs. of each month, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Through Jan. 27, 2008. $8-$10; children 12 and under, free.