Richard Diebenkorn, 1922 – 1993, was a modern painter whose work had three main phases. He was a successful abstract painter who then turned to landscape and figures and then, remarkably enough, went back to abstraction with a fresh perspective to finish his career.
His first finished painting (1943) reveals the influence of Hopper — compare Hopper’s:
Approaching a City
Hopper’s use of light continued to influence Diebenkorn, but he quickly found his own style. His education (Stanford) was interrupted by WWII; he spent several years in DC, then returned to CA. He then spent a couple years in New Mexico, and on to Urbana, IL, before returning to CA. During the late 40’s and early 50’s, he quickly became one of the pre-eminent abstract painters of the time. Much of his work at this time was landscape inspired or influenced, but some of it shows the influence of surrealism and the work of other abstract expressionists such as Motherwell. His palette changesdsomewhat, it seems, in reaction to the physical environment. But the paintings are definitely not landscape, but abstract.
Beginning in 1955, however, his work took a distinct turn, as Diebenkorn moved to a more representational expression. One day he got “in the car and (went) out and looked for something that might make a good painting.” The result was a little city scape, Chabot Valley., about which Diebenkorn said, “After doing this landscape–and this all probably happened in a week–the landscape and several still lifes–I approached a big canvas with a figure. ” While there is an organic relationship between Diebenkorn’s earlier abstracts and his landscapes, there is no escaping the fact that the work of this period is clearly representational — although it was considered retrograde at the time. Still lifes, interiors with or without figures, figure studies and landscapes occupied the artist until 1967. One of the masterpieces of this period is:
Cityscape I (1963)
In 1966 Diebenkorn saw an exhibit of Matisse in LA. He was especially struck by:
Porte-Fenêtre à Collioure (1914)
The artist’s subsequent work abandoned representation, and returned to abstraction in a very different way. The great Ocean Park series began in 1967, running to well over 100 paintings with flat bands of luminous colors and airy planes.
Ocean Park #66 (1973)
I encountered Diebenkorn’s work for the first time in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art about 5 years ago. I was bowled over by it, and continue to pour over the gorgeous book I bought then The Art of Richard Diebenkorn by Jane Livingston, from which I extracted some of these images, the timeline and the quotes.
Now that we have a little context in common, I would like to invite you to do a little analysis à la Terry Barrett of one of my favorite Diebenkorn paintings:
Interior with View of Buildings (1962)