- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 3, 2001

Corcoran Gallery of Art print curator Eric Denker visited Wayne Thiebaud recently at his home in Sacramento, Calif.

Mr. Denker had money for eight prints that would form the core of the gallery's exhibit "The Icing on the Cake: Selected Prints by Wayne Thiebaud." The show, which contains the artist's signature creamy cakes, succulent pies, lollipops, candied apples and club sandwiches, celebrates the artist's 80th birthday.

"He made wonderful and rare prints available to us, such as artist's and trial proofs and works not printed lately," Mr. Denker says. Afterward, the artist queried the curator about his favorite print.

Mr. Denker chose "Cake Window," a 1964 etching. Mr. Thiebaud surprised him by giving it to the Corcoran.

The exhibition of the artist's graphic work may seem unusual because Mr. Thiebaud is known by many people only as a painter. A major retrospective of his oils, watercolors and pastels will open at the Phillips Collection on Feb. 10.

Mr. Denker emphasizes that Mr. Thiebaud's prints complement his paintings. "We recognize the Phillips show as the center exhibition but feel it's important to show the prints that are also a major part of his output," the curator says.

Mr. Thiebaud prizes the etching medium and created his best prints with this process. "There's nothing really that I've ever found in other lines that is like an etched line — its fidelity, the richness of it, the density — you just don't get that any other way," he says in the exhibit's brochure.

He began making prints occasionally in the 1950s and in 1958 became guest instructor in printmaking at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute).

Kathan Brown of Crown Point Press invited Mr. Thiebaud in 1965 to print a series of etchings. The press printed "Delights" as both a print portfolio and book. He made many more plates — a total of 47 — than the 17 he included.

Mr. Denker writes that Mr. Thiebaud's imagery, often allied with pop artists, is more human than their more satiric takes.

Mr. Thiebaud shows disappearing aspects of our lives, such as mom's apple pie. His approach often is nostalgic, such as Norman Rockwell's scenes of American life that captured many hearts at the Corcoran last year.

Mr. Thiebaud started working with publisher Ronald Feldman of Parasol Press Ltd. in New York City in the 1970s. Mr. Feldman asked the artist to make a portfolio of work in new print media. It included the color aquatint "Big Suckers" (1971), which is in the Corcoran show.

"Suckers" shows the underlying geometric patterns of his work. The brilliant red, yellow and blue swirls, hearts and triangles seem to move the mouthwatering lollipops across the page.

In the earlier etching "Club Sandwich," he juxtaposed the triangular shape of the sandwich with a circular plate.

Mr. Thiebaud began venturing not only into new print media but subjects such as gum-ball machines, lipstick and bow ties. He made a big leap in 1973 when he bought a second home in San Francisco and became fascinated with its steep hills and dramatic views.

He combined several vistas to create composite images for the tension and vertigo he associated with the city. His 1979 "Downgrade" compresses space and a dramatic angling that expresses this tension. His freeways turn into roller coasters but are both real and abstract.WHAT: "The Icing on the Cake: Selected Prints by Wayne Thiebaud"WHERE: Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NWWHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. except Tuesdays and until 9 p.m. Thursdays, through April 23

TICKETS: $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and members' guests, $1 for students and Thursdays after 5 p.m.PHONE: 202/639-1800

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