Exhibition Explores Memories, Humanity and Tragi-Comedy In Wayne Thiebaud's Clowns

  • LAGUNA BEACH, California
  • /
  • April 04, 2021

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Wayne Thiebaud, "Clown and Circle" (2015), oil on board. copyright 2020 Wayne Thiebaud / Licesnsed by VAGA, Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Wayne Thiebaud's oil-on-board painting “Boxed Clown (with Flag)” from 2017, in "Wayne Thiebaud: Clowns."

Art historian Julia Friedman provides insights in a video tour of the current exhibition at Laguna Art Museum

Over the past seven years Wayne Thiebaud has made dozens of paintings, drawings, and etchings of clowns. Like much of his work, this latest series is in a sense autobiographical. During his boyhood in Long Beach, California, he looked forward to the visits of a traveling Ringling Brothers circus and sometimes helped out behind the scenes in exchange for tickets. The costumes, faces, and antics of the clowns were the beginning of a lifelong fascination for him. The clown series is its culmination, in which the now 100-year-old artist revisits those early memories.

In December 2019 Wayne Thiebaud unveiled a selection from his clown series at the San Francisco gallery founded by his late son, Paul Thiebaud. The Laguna Art Museum exhibition will be a version of the Paul Thiebaud Gallery exhibition, featuring more than forty works.

Given the importance of memories in Thiebaud’s work, it seems fitting that his clown series, a tribute to performers remembered from his boyhood, should have its museum debut in a town for which he feels a nostalgic fondness. He came to Laguna Beach on visits with his family as a child and later stayed for extended periods in an apartment overlooking Main Beach. Laguna Art Museum staged exhibitions of his work in 2007 and 2014, and in 2018 Thiebaud presented his painting Jolly Cones, a version of one of his many New Yorker covers, as a gift to the museum’s permanent collection.

Catalogue cover, Wayne Thiebaud: Clowns

Wayne Thiebaud: Clowns will be on view at Laguna Art Museum from December 6, 2020, through October 24, 2021, accompanied by an illustrated catalogue containing an interview with the artist. The exhibition coincided with a retrospective of Thiebaud’s work at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, the city where he has lived and worked for most of his life, which was on display when this senior statesman of American art turned 100 on November 15, 2020.

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