We shouldn't like Wayne Thiebaud's paintings. His subject matter—pastries, sunglasses—is shallow and his cotton-candy colors are sappy. Yet it's hard not to be seduced by the sheer love of paint that goes into these works and by just the right mix of facility and expression.
This exhibition was a melange of works from the 1960s through the 90’s. There were paintings of sardines in a tin, a salad bar, and summer drinks in paper cups. The majority, however, veered between skyless, claustrophobic city and landscapes rendered in saturated colors, and pastel portraits of confections infused with such light, air, and depth that they create an atmosphere of beech and ocean in the late summer, late-afternoon sun.
"Meringues" (1988) shows Thiebaud in top form. Triangular slices of pastel pie are placed across the canvas in gridlike fashion, with the ones at the edges only partially rendered to imply an infinity of sugary delights. Double layers in combinations of chocolate, strawberry, lemon, lime, apricot, and vanilla—with no two slices alike—underscore the theme of limitless pleasure. Set on a pale pink surface beneath a hazy blue horizon line, the pies' delicate tints shimmer in reflection on identical white plates; the low light source, like a waning sun, leaves long blue shadows in its wake.