Wayne Thiebaud & Ghia’s Le Spritz

A painting of a single slice of pie on a white plate in a slim, rectangular glass case. The edges of the glass are hues of blue and green, the shadows are blue, the counter and the wall behind it are a chalky white.
Wayne Thiebaud, Caged Pie, 1962.

Wayne Thiebaud’s paintings look edible. That was his thing—buttery thick impasto like smooth lumps of frosting over perfectly rounded cakes. I pictured him decorating a cake with his paintbrush.

When I worked as a museum guard—a miserable job—I would loiter in front of Caged Pie (1962) in one of the galleries. I considered the long clean angles of the countertop, the empty case, the long slice of pie muddled with blackberries and singular, slumped in its cage, like me in the old hallowed museum with its white marble floors and bright track lighting. As if meditating on a soft-looking painting would make the floor beneath my feet less hard/unyielding.

I clipped Nude Standing (1965), a postcard size image of a naked woman, from an art magazine I found as an intern at the same museum. Every morning, I stood in my closet with her: her nonchalant pose sketched in electric greens and soft peaches, her concerned and tired expression. I stood with her and Thiebaud, in my underwear, considering my clothes and considering the day and it’s requisite outfit. Later, I found an old catalog filled with his San Francisco paintings at a book sale. His take on landscape and skyline were feats in perspective and color; how he captured the verticality of the city streets in Apartment Hill (1993) with city mist rising up the glittering condo tower windows, like bubbles in an aperitif glass. Fizzy but effervescent enough to cut through the richness of cake or city fog.

Wayne Thiebaud, Apartment Hill, 1993.
A starbust of light shines off the corner of a tall, angular glass full of a fizzy, light pink cocktail. A lime slice sits on the glass's edge and complements the green backdrop.
She Bites non-alchoholic cocktail. Courtesy of Ghia. Photo: Nacho Alegre.

Thiebaud paintings pair well with fernet or an aperol spritz or a negroni with an orange zest. I don’t drink anymore so I’ll make it a can of Ghia’s Le Spritz, a non-alcoholic bitter herb and ginger spritzer. Maybe I’d drink my aperitif in the tub with my head resting against the porcelain lip like Woman in Tub (1965) or like, Dressing Figure  (1964)—based on his wife, here featured as a woman with a messy updo draped in a silk robe accompanied by perfect cakes—waiting for my landline to ring.

I realize that I’m drawn to his ability to evoke a distinctively Californian sense of lighting and slow time: diffused but bright, glowing in the shop, looking up, considering sweets; assessing my body as it changes; watching bubbles rise in my glass without a care in the world when momentarily, the light falls just right.

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