Thiebaud’s Color Revelations at Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum

AnnePic-6It is my last “furlough Friday” hopefully. I am sitting in my studio at the computer sipping the morning cup o’ joe. Over the quiet hum of my computer and the tap of my fingers on the keyboard, I hear the soaring voices of the luminous and uplifting recording of Eric Whitacre’s “Cloudburst” and other works performed by Polyphony and Stephen Layton. It sets a contemplative tone for my day today. Utter loveliness. It tightens my throat to hear it.

We had always planned to visit the opening of Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum’s new wing, but it took a phone call from a friend to get us into action (this is Your phone call!). Years ago I had performed at the Crocker as a musician, and had enjoyed viewing the art work of some fine painters of the American West. We’ve loved being members of SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) and the de Young Museum(also in SF). Anyway, last weekend I got a call from my son living in San Francisco that his roommate’s mom (a painter) was visiting from New York and wanted to see the Wayne Thiebaud: Homecoming exhibit at the newly expanded Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. It was quickly decided that this should be a group excursion. My son was particularly interested to attend the show with my husband because David studied painting with Mr. Thiebaud many years ago.

After paying our admission (which we applied toward a membership), we climbed the stairs to the second floor of the new wing to see the Thiebaud exhibit. Right there in the hallway, I was captured. Of course, I’ve seen Thiebaud’s work in books and slideshows. But I’m telling you, NOTHING compares to seeing it in person. What I missed in the 2D representations of his work was the Paint. My God. The way the man uses paint is electrifying. He is generous with it. He uses the paint to add a topographic dimension to his paintings that I totally missed by viewing pictures of his work. These hills and valleys, furrows and perturbations of the force found in his brush strokes add impact and emotion to his representations. There was a fairly recent painting of a dog on the beach where Thiebaud’s use of frantic brushstrokes outlining the figure of the dog gave me the illusion that I was seeing the wet pet shake water all over the place. It evoked memories of seeing a similar scene so familiar to me.

Another wonderful gift of seeing Thiebaud’s work up close was the impact of his use of color. Musicians know that each time we play a musical note there are reverberations of related tones called harmonics that hang in the air with the pitch we just played and help give the tone its characteristic sound or timbre. Well, Thiebaud plays with harmonics  of color. The edges of his figures and subjects vibrate with colorful overtones. They aren’t pastels either. They electrify his images. I felt like I was being swept into another world looking at his paintings. It added a sense of heightened reality and more. It was Super-real.  I rushed from painting to painting ingesting that electricity and intensity. Wow! I felt changed inside. I looked at his portrait of a man in a white button-down shirt. Sounds straightforward, doesn’t it? But the white shirt had a rainbow of color harmonics in it that I instantly recognized as something I had always seen, but never seen. Now I am looking for all the colors I have been missing when I let my brain fill in the blanks instead of really seeing what is actually in front of me.

On a last sad and yet humorous note, I was so excited about seeing the show that I completely missed the rest of the museum and the fact that there were 12-15 MORE Thiebaud works on the third floor. Don’t make my mistake! I’m going back this weekend to enjoy the rest of the show and to actually look at the other Crocker offerings!