Richard Diebenkorn’s abstractions balance depth and surface, structure and field. His Ocean Park series stands among the most eloquent and luminous paintings of the 1960s and 70s.
Raised in San Francisco, Diebenkorn developed an early interest in art, particularly in the work of illustrators Howard Pyle and N.C. Wyeth. His service in World War II interrupted his education at Stanford University; after the war he continued his studies at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA), where his teachers included David Park, who became an important influence and a close friend. During this period, Diebenkorn learned of the innovations of the New York School, and he gained first-hand knowledge of contemporary abstraction when he joined the faculty of the CSFA. His colleagues there included Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko.
During a period in Albuquerque in the early 1950s, he created abstracted paintings defined by linear planes and pinks and browns inspired by the local landscape. In the mid-1950s, Diebenkorn was exploring Abstract Expressionism through strong gesture and washes of color; the sense of landscape predominates in these compositions. Later in the decade, Diebenkorn returned to more figurative work--a move that distinguished his paintings from the abstract idioms that dominated the avant-garde art world. Along with his colleagues Park, Elmer Bischoff, and Nathan Oliveira, among others, Diebenkorn
became known as a founder of the Bay Area figurative school. His images of people and interiors from this period are often structured by rectangular shapes and squared-off forms. These would develop into the grids that the artist would continue to employ as an organizing and anchoring principle for his work.
It was Diebenkorn’s move to Southern California to take a teaching position at UCLA that inspired his best-known work. Beginning in 1967, he created more than 140 paintings in what became his Ocean Park series, named after his Santa Monica neighborhood. The skeletal scaffolding of these paintings create interlocking planes, overlaid with pale transparent color, that suggest, by turns, roads, horizon lines, and the ocean. Diebenkorn acknowledged the influence of Matisse in his oeuvre; the subtly bright palette and planar ambiguities of the Ocean Park paintings testify to this appreciation.
Diebenkorn left the Los Angeles area in 1988 and moved back to northern California, where he built a studio in Healdsburg, in Sonoma County. In ill health in his last years, he created small-scale gouaches and etchings, including an extensive series based on an image of a coat and a group of prints intended to illustrate a publication of W. B. Yeats’ poetry. He died in Berkeley in 1993.
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