Flatland River © Wayne Thiebaud / Licensed by VAGA, New York
I have always liked the artwork of Wayne Thiebaud, an American-born artist associated with the Pop art movement. His work has been described as commercial and plain. Simple images of everyday subjects perhaps lacking any depth. I disagree. Yes, he is known more for his paintings of desserts, ice cream cones and heavily frosted three tier cakes. However, his subject matter is a product of his time and our age of mass consumption.
Close-up of “Cake Bell” Wayne Thiebaud
Wayne Thiebaud was originally trained in Graphic Design and employed for a time in the animation industry. He also worked for a Long Beach Californian cafe which probably led him to his choice of subject matter. The paintings could almost be edible. They are all covered in thick luxuriant paint with their notable multicoloured edges. It is these edges and the colours he has used that give the illusion of vibration. This gives us another interpretation of the subject and perhaps what the artist wanted us to experience. All different from what we usually see and yes, I suppose, it could be called art.
Y River, 1998. Photograph: © Wayne Thiebaud / DACS, London / VAGA, New York 2017 / Courtesy White Cube
It is, however, Thiebaud’s landscape paintings that intrigue me the most. The colours in his works are non-traditional. They have lavender coloured orchards and lemon custard streams. These juxtapositions play with our sense of depth on the two-dimensional canvas. Could this be what our bees see as they fly across the fields and cityscapes? We know for sure that bees do not see the same colours as us. The colours and patterns of the ultra-violet illuminated flowers that the bees see would be completely different than our visual perception. Their world must be full of attractive patterns and colours. Upon returning to the hive, the bees communicate through a dance process the flight distance and location of the new nectar source.
Visible (left) and Ultra Violet (right)
Unlike Thiebaud’s paintings, we can only imagine what a bee truly sees. I wonder what colours these bees would see looking at one of his landscapes? Perhaps by looking at other artists’ works, we can imagine the possible difference between ours and the bees’ visual world.