(April 22, 1922 – March 30, 1993) was a well-known 20th century American painter. Diebenkorn was born in Portland, Oregon; his family moved to San Francisco, California when he was two. In 1940, Diebenkorn entered Stanford University. At first, he painted and drew in a representational style that was in a large part influenced by Edward Hopper. However, during the late 1940s and early 1950s he lived and worked in various places: New York City, Woodstock, New York, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Urbana, Illinois, Berkeley, California and he developed his own style of abstract expressionist painting. Abstract expressionism had captured worldwide attention having developed in New York during the 1940s. After the Second World War the focus of the art world shifted from the School of Paris to the New York School. In the early 1950s Diebenkorn adopted abstract expressionism as his vehicle for self expression.
The paintings shown above cover the range of his work, but most of all they show how effective he is at putting everything in the right place regardless of the subject. After studying his work for several years, the Ocean Park series remains my favorite (see middle painting). The wheels started turning as I wondered why we don’t do minimal or abstract expressionism in textile work. Is it because we are so accustomed to the opulence of fiber? Or, speaking only for myself, is it because we have not give enough attention to the simple elegance of spatial relationships?
Often the work of Joseph Alber’s Interaction of Color comes to mind when viewing Diebenkorn. Each color interacting with the next; yet every color has a voice that sings in harmony with all the others…..much like a choir where all the individual voices become one. Diebenkorn moves beyond color interaction into entirely new territory by his division of the canvas.
While Diebenkorn did explore color field and lyrical abstract, upon returning to Berkley he concentrated on the development of the Ocean Park series. The series ended at the time of his death with number 140. This is when his work moved beyond the typical paint on canvas movement. Many critics try to lump him into that old saw that was used for all abstract expressionist but aren’t we tired of that “critical” assessment. We need fresh eyes to find how this work applies to today’s artist.
Diebenkorn’s work is not just about the paint on the canvas. It speaks of hope, the beauty of the environment and the call of the Pacific. This aspect of his work is what prompted me to give some time to a minimal and textiles series. My series is called “Earth and Sky.” Even though I live in an urban environment, we still get to see big sky and plenty of earth. My color work is very different from Diebenkorn’s due to the difference in the light. The quilting line will become the brush stroke; never overwhelming but always visible and sculptural. I am following some of his forms as an homage, but also in an effort to better understand spatial relationships, I am branching out on several new forms.
In closing, Dan Hofstadter of The New Yorker was talking with Diebenkorn at a time when he (Diebenkorn) wasn’t sure he still had the energy or drive to paint. Hofstadter asked, “O.K. Dick. How many people in the world do you think paint as well as you do?” Diebenkorn thought for a long time and then just laughed and went back to the studio. To find the media that allows you to give meaning to your life is the greatest gift of all.
Thanks to June for giving me the chance to join you for an iced chai…..Gabrielle
A parting view for inspiration…..can textiles follow these forms? I give it a resounding yes. Art is art regardless of the media.
UPDATE: Here’s a quote I found from Diebenkorn “The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued – except as a stimulus for further moves.”
June asked to find more images or critiques on his use of space. The search continues.
Sorry I couldn’t find more images that would allow me to copy and paste; however there are lots of hits on Google if you are interested in a wide range of critiques on RD’s work. Thanks for being so kind regarding my first post to the Cafe.