Landscape paintings are paradoxical. They do not depict us, but they are about us. They show us how we see the world—and call into question what that perception says about our cultures, our emotions, and our ideas about images themselves.
The first thing that grabs you about the work is the unusual perspective. Most landscapes separate sky and ground with a horizon line, but Mountain Clouds does not. Instead, sky and mountain are all we can see, and the vertical, rather than the horizontal, is emphasized. Thiebaud foregrounds the mountain over a backdrop of matte blue sky, dotted with soft clouds. He makes the mountain the subject of a portrait, not just an inanimate chunk of earth.
Closer inspection reveals that Thiebaud’s process is just as clever as his perspective. Since the 1960s, Thiebaud, always an experimenter, has occasionally adapted examples of his graphic work into paintings, drawing inspiration from Chinese landscape art as well as his fertile imagination and his Pop art roots. Here, he revisited a 1964 black etching depicting a mountain in the Sacramento Valley, where he lives. He partially covered its intricate lines and cross-hatching with carefully manipulated fields of watercolor, and created a cloud-filled sky in the etching’s original void. After Morris Louis, Thiebaud has employed the “stain” method of color field painting, which emphasizes the overall effects of color. However, unlike Louis’ images, Thiebaud’s works are representational, blending the hue-play of abstraction with the poignancy of real life captured on paper.
Mountain Clouds is part of our current exhibition Important Works on Paper.
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