On Wayne Thiebaud and Gary Hutton: Art, History, Place

Fall Fields, 2017 © Wayne Thiebaud / DACS, London / VAGA, New York 2017

Fall Fields, 2017 © Wayne Thiebaud / DACS, London / VAGA, New York 2017

Not many know the art lineage of two western artists and designers, Wayne Thiebaud and Gary Hutton, or the role of the land in their work.  In 1920, Mesa Arizona had a population of 3,000, among them Wayne Thiebaud.  Mesa has hundreds of miles of thousand-year old canals that texture the Sonoran desert. There and in his boyhood home of Long Beach, California, the sun was bright and cast well-defined shadows.

Wayne Thiebaud called himself a painter of illusionistic form. Others credit him for helping to invent pop art. Thiebaud is well known for his paintings of pies and other diner and cafe objects. It took a British critic describing Thiebaud’s recent show at White Cube (2017) to see beyond pop to portraiture and landscape. Laura Cumming writes, “Thiebaud’s joy in America extends out through the landscape, no matter how industrial. Gold and pink striped fields somehow keep their terrestrial reality, despite the celestial colours, because he puts so much exactitude into the drawing that underpins every work.”  Among his pupils was Gary Hutton, an art student who would become a California designer, furniture maker and interior designer.

Hutton told Designwire, “I was born and raised on my grandmother’s apple orchard.  My dad was an engineer, driving trains for the railroad; my mother a homemaker.”  He left for U.C. Davis “during the Golden Age of its Art Department,”  which included Wayne Thiebaud.

Designer Gary Hutton

Designer Gary Hutton

Thiebaud had been inspired by New York artists whose work was experimental, modern, sometimes clean and spare, sometimes textured.  Willem de Kooning’s paint textured the canvass, and Thiebaud’s cakes are textured with paint as thick as frosting. Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns  captured objects in the life of post-war America.  Elaine de Kooning expanded possibilities of portraiture. She studied each person hard to uncover the essential pose that would define them.

Did Thiebaud’s inspirations influence Gary Hutton’s work? “My design aesthetic originates from my art background and training. Touch and feel are very important. It’s like textiles —how does this fabric feel?  What’s it going to look like?  How is it going to perform?  I’d describe my style as clean, modern, and experimental.”  Equally, he said to us, the relationship between the client and the designer is key to the success of the job. He studies his clients hard.

We met with Hutton on a mild summer day in San Francisco.  He told us about an enjoyable project on a house designed by architect A. Quincy Jones and postwar developer Joseph Eichler.  “Postwar clean, modern, and experimental” are terms that come to mind.  They peeled back layers of misguided design and reintroduced mid-century designers.  He also introduced artworks from the period.  Gary spoke fondly of the clients - they developed “a professional partnership, but also a friendly one.”  

Gary Hutton's Lagoon House: A revitalization of one of the last remaining Eichler houses. Photo: Matthew Millman

Gary Hutton's Lagoon House: A revitalization of one of the last remaining Eichler houses. Photo: Matthew Millman

The house sits on the water. It is not large, but its open plan, glass walls and interior garden capture a sense of place and give it a light feel that honors the modernity and historicity of one of few remaining Eichler houses.  Gary humbly says that “working for ghd is a continuing education.” For the rest of us, his work educates and continues the work of his teachers.