Wayne Thiebaud’s “100 Year Old Clown”

According to Wayne Thiebaud, his latest painting, which he cheekily named “100 Year-old clown,” is the summation of his clown series that has been in the works for the last five years. “Clowns” will be exhibited at the Laguna Art Museum December 6, 2020–April 4, 2012.

Wayne Thiebaud, 100 Year-old Clown, 2020
Oil on canvas, 18 x 14 inches
2020 © Wayne Thiebaud/VAGA at ARS, NY

“It is difficult to say whether One-hundred-year-old Clown is a genre-bending painting (in that it contains elements of and references to portraiture, landscape, and still life), or a painting outside any genre. Could it be that Thiebaud, who has been fortunate enough to have had over seven decades of experience and growth as a painter, has made the ultimate breakthrough into a meta-generic space? Thiebaud’s early interest in painters who, in the poet and critic John Yau’s words, “reinvented particular genres such as still life, landscape, and cityscape” (Yau cites Cézanne, Morandi, de Chirico, and Hopper), logically led to his own reconceptualization of painting genres to the point of merging and layering them in a single masterwork. Although Thiebaud’s reputation has long been established (Karen Wilkin hailed Thiebaud as “an American master” in 2015), it wasn’t until his latest body of work, launched that same year, that the nonagenarian painter changed his perspective from the observer to the object of observation, vicariously stepping into the ring of his circus-themed paintings and drawings. Not content with limiting himself to the still lifes and landscapes that already secured his place in the canon, Thiebaud began a new chapter, painting without presumption, but with the hope of sorting out some decades-old memories, thoughts, and sensations.” 

My article “Past continuous” about the painting and its role in Thiebaud’s oeuvre was just published by The New Criterion. An essay-length version of this article is forthcoming in the catalogue for the LAM “Wayne Thiebaud: Clowns” exhibition.