The Kemper puts out its Thiebaud collection so we can get a little taste.

Palette Cleanser 

The Kemper puts out its Thiebaud collection so we can get a little taste.

In Wayne Thiebaud's hands, the tempting spheres of cakes and candy apples, the zigzags of a cut melon, the oval tops and pointed ends of ice-cream cones, and the sharp corners of club sandwiches are cause for quiet celebration. Everyday Delights: Prints by Wayne Thiebaud, at the homey Kemper East, reduces Thiebaud to his austere best. The show, culled entirely from the Kemper's permanent collection, serves as a retrospective of the artist's print work.

The quaint gallery is more intimate than Thiebaud's work, which retains a cold distance from its rich subjects — most famously, food in its various shapes and qualities. This is no accident; Thiebaud worked in the food-service industry as a young man. His love of simplicity and of rendering everyday delights as basic pleasures is evident throughout. "Sardines" revisits the familiar arrangement of tightly packed fish, with a striking yellow glow that emanates from the front of the can and between the fish. Mirroring the sardine can is its shadow just to the side; in Thiebaud's work, that shadow is just as important as his more colorful shapes.

One of the standouts is "Club Sandwich," in which the sandwich's four sharp wedges lie on their sides or stand up, the symmetry amplified by the round plate upon which they rest. Shadows play here, too: A dark circle surrounds part of the plate, and two olives complement the cottage-cheese mound that figures prominently in the center.

The show also includes a breakfast plate from Thiebaud's dry-point etchings book Delights (1964-65), but food isn't the only thing on display here. Thiebaud renders Bay Area landscapes in a triptych of buildings virtually flattened onto the canvas. Depicting the same stretch of buildings in "City Edge," "Neighborhood Ridge" and "Night Ridge" — but adding or removing certain details each time — he reduces his work until its essence is clear.

In a 1979 aquatint etching called "Bird," Thiebaud captures the benign innocence of the titular creature, which hangs in space with only a tan background behind it. Yellow runs through the graceful curve of the bird's neck and body, contrasting with the sharp angle of the tail feathers behind it. A horizontal line below the bird separates it from its elongated shadow, adding depth. In its twin, a "Bird" from 1980, Thiebaud executes a variation on a theme: It's a similar (if not the same) bird in the same pose, painted with watercolor, a different medium. This bird sits with a black background behind it, brown below, harmless and unassuming, barely there.

In 1990's "Paint Cans," stir sticks emerge from each of the eight cylinders on the canvas — red, black, blue, white, yellow and so on. Each has a shadow, too, and one drips paint down the can's side. Perhaps this color lithograph is simply another study in shapes, but it feels like an ode to the artist's trade.

Encapsulating all that's great about Thiebaud is the watercolor etching "Cosmetic Counter" (1982). The central figure is a cosmetics saleswoman; on her head, a bun with complicated layers of blond hair contrasts against the blue sky behind her. The glass counter in front of her suggests a conveyer belt. Her blue dress, with its plunging neckline, draws attention to the painting's centerpiece: rows of lipstick cases open, sitting like candy or candles on a cake within the display case. As her long arms dangle at her sides, she stares straight at the viewer, echoing a question posed delicately by Thiebaud throughout the show: Are you interested?

Yes.

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