Fine Cartoon Art

exaggerated, in a good way

Deee-licious: Wayne Thiebaud

Posted by jtebeau on March 26, 2010

Cake Window by Wayne Thiebaud

When I say “fine cartoon art”, in the most basic sense I’m talking about art imbued with a cartoon sensibility that could (or should) actually hold its own in a museum. Art that you ‘get’ immediately. It says what it came to say in five seconds. You can spend more time with these pieces, perhaps, and get more out of them and appreciate the artist’s skill as a painter, but they state their intention quickly, like a good cartoon.

Take Norman Rockwell. Though a realist, his pieces were like one-panel cartoons. Then had a message to get across quickly, as you scanned the magazine rack. He told a story (some deeper, some wittier) with one picture.

Others, like Crumb, are strictly cartoonists, whose work has transcended the genre and pulled it up into the world of fine art. Witness the museum shows he’s had in Europe, and increasingly (such as the Carnegie exhibition a few years ago) in the U.S., too.

Then others are something a little different. They paint like cartoonists draw (unlike Rockwell, who generally painted in a realist manner): broadly, colorfully, playfully – but their work is pretty universally considered “fine art”. Think of Lichtenstein, Keith Haring and Wayne Thiebaud. This is what I mostly think of when I think Fine Cartoon Art. Even Picasso went here from time to time. And certainly Toulouse-Lautrec, Thomas Hart Benton and today’s Lowbrow artists like Glenn Barr and Robert Williams. Look for those two to end up in “legit” museums more and more, especially the latter, on the heels of the Whitney Biennial.

I like Thiebaud for his straight-forward colors and his graphic design skills. Like Rockwell, he kills on the newsstands. His New Yorker covers are gorgeous. When people say they don’t “get” his work, I’m surprised. What’s there to get about a still life? They’ve been considered fine art for centuries. Thiebaud continues that tradition with the vibrant, playful colors and bold lines of a cartoonist. This is why I consider him to be the epitome of Fine Cartoon Art.

If you’re ever in New York or San Francisco, check out his work for yourself at the galleries run by his son, Paul.

"Three Machines" © Wayne Thiebaud


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