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Wayne Thiebaud (born USA,1920) and Lisa Milroy (born Canada, 1959) are two artists who have, independently of each other, created drawings and paintings of large collections of objects organised into patterns. Whilst neither is an archivist per se, they bring to still life painting an archivist’s eye for the variety to be found within a particular class of object.

Common to both artists is the adoption of a hovering vantage point, looking down or across at rows or grids of objects, strongly lit on a plain (often white) background.

Thiebaud’s chosen subjects were the bright, mass-produced consumer goods of late twentieth century America, such as shoes, sunglasses and fast food. He worked across a range of disciplines including drawing (pencil, ink or pastel), printmaking (etching and lithography) and oil painting. Sometimes seen as part of the Pop Art movement, a wider examination of his work reveals him to be a traditional painter with a contemporary sensibility, attracted to subjects across the genres of figure painting, landscape and still life. Occasionally his objects will be depicted on shelves or behind glass, as they would be seen in a shop, but within a non-specific location.

:Shoe Rows.jpg
Wayne Thiebaud, Shoe rows, 1979–1979, Etching and Aquatint, 41.3 x 60.5 cm

An interview with Wayne Thiebaud

Milroy is drawn to similar subjects, with a particular emphasis on shoes, but her playful disruption of the grid creates a different sense of visual rhythm to Thiebaud’s more regular arrangements. Her compositions might at first appear to be abstractions, as the strength of the visual pattern overrides the identity of the depicted subject. In recent years she has developed other approaches to the representation of common objects. 

Lisa Milroy, Shoes, 1985, oil on canvas, 174 x 226cm. Read more about this work.

Visit Lisa Milroy’s website for more of her work with shoes.

An interview with Lisa Milroy