Shout Magazine

Mark Kostabi on Wayne Thiebaud

Dear Heidi: Please send Wilfredo to the Whitney Museum to buy a copy of the Wayne Thiebaud catalog that accompanies his current retrospective. One of my dealers here in Italy has commissioned me to make a painting featuring a slot machine for a very prestigious client in Milan. I’ve thoroughly searched the Internet for inspiring images of slot machines but nothing moves me like my memory of Thiebaud’s 1962 painting Jackpot Machine, with its stark simplicity and haunting human-like presence – a hollow, gaping maw authoritatively presaging Robert Gober’s expensive sink drains, and its upraised single arm, waiting to be pulled for pleasure. Simple stars and fruits ornament the beautiful geometric form of this one-armed bandit, as its angular planes catch a harsh, raking fluorescent light from the left and cast a rigorous minimal shadow to the right. A flat band of blue straps the bottom of the lusciously impastoed canvas and serves both as a description of a table’s side and a confirmation of the geometric authority that has dictated our society of mass consumption and prefabricated pleasure.

Wayne Thiebaud is a great artist. I would put him up there with Morandi, DeChirico, Hopper, Chardin and Warhol. Considered a “California artist,” I heard many reverential whispers about him when I was an art student at California State University, Fullerton. He had godlike artworld status. People said he could do no wrong, with his thick, wet, buttery paint that decisively slopped about and wrought the forms of cakes, hot dogs, gumball machines, and pastry displays – the ultimate icons of America’s vast, sugary consciousness. Thiebaud, like Warhol, explores repetition – but where Warhol’s variation-within-repetition occurred because of deliberately inconsistent, rapid silk-screening, Thiebaud’s is more directly hand made; each slice of pie is slightly different. One slice is more squat than another, the meringue of one pie is fluffier than its twin, and all are slowly and lovingly realized, with a sincere tip of the hat to classical painting, but never forgetting to expose our blind embrace of “American abundance,” of mass-produced pleasure.

When Wilfredo returns with the catalog, please ask all the painters to make one painting each, choosing any Kostabi image, somehow incorporating Thiebaud’s slot machine. All paintings are due on Friday at 8:00 p.m., including Miguel’s. Judging begins first thing Monday morning.

August 2001