Richard Diebenkorn (April 22, 1922 – March 30, 1993) was an American painter His early work is associated with abstract expressionism and the Bay Area Figurative Movement of the 1950s and 1960s His later work (best known as the Ocean Park paintings) were instrumental to his achievement of worldwide acclaim
Richard Clifford Diebenkorn Jr was born on April 22, 1922 in Portland, Oregon His family moved to San Francisco, California, when he was two years old From the age of four or five he was continually drawing In 1940, Diebenkorn entered Stanford University, where he met his first two artistic mentors, professor and muralist Victor Arnautoff, who guided Diebenkorn in classical formal discipline with oil paint; and Daniel Mendelowitz, with whom he shared a passion for the work of Edward Hopper Hopper’s influence can be seen in Diebenkorn’s representational work of this time
Diebenkorn served in the United States Marine Corps from 1943 to 1945 During the late 1940s and early 1950s, he lived and worked in various places: San Francisco and Sausalito (1946–47 and 1947–50), Woodstock, New York (1947), Albuquerque, New Mexico (1950–52), Urbana, Illinois (1952–53), and Berkeley, California (1953–1966) He developed his own style of abstract expressionist painting After WWII, the focus of the art world shifted from the School of Paris to the US and in particular to the New York School In 1946, Diebenkorn enrolled as a student in the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco, now known as the San Francisco Art Institute which was developing its own vigorous style of abstract expressionism In 1947, after ten months in Woodstock on an Alfred Bender travel grant, Diebenkorn had returned to the CSFA, where he adopted abstract expressionism as his vehicle for self-expression He was offered a place on the CSFA Faculty in 1947 and taught there until 1950 He was influenced at first by Clyfford Still, who also taught at the CSFA from 1946 to 1950, Arshile Gorky, Hassel Smith and Willem de Kooning He became a leading abstract expressionist on the west coast In 1950 to 1952, Diebenkorn was enrolled under the GI Bill in the University of New Mexico’s graduate Fine Arts department where he continued to adapt his abstract expressionist style
He lived in Berkeley, California, from 1955 to 1966 By the mid-1950s, Diebenkorn had become an important figurative painter, in a style that bridged Henri Matisse with abstract expressionism Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff, Henry Villierme, David Park, James Weeks and others participated in a renaissance of figurative painting, dubbed the Bay Area Figurative Movement
From fall 1964 to spring 1965, Diebenkorn traveled through Europe and he was granted a cultural visa to visit important Soviet museums and view their holdings of Matisse’s paintings When he returned to painting in the Bay Area in mid-1965, his resulting works summed up all that he had learned from more than a decade as a leading figurative painter
The Henri Matisse paintings French Window at Collioure, and View of Notre-Dame both from 1914 exerted tremendous influence on Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park paintings According to art historian Jane Livingston, Diebenkorn saw both Matisse paintings in an exhibition in Los Angeles in 1966 and they had an enormous impact on him and his work
In 1967, Diebenkorn moved to Santa Monica and took up a professorship at UCLA He moved into a small studio space in the same building as his old friend from the Bay Area, Sam Francis In the winter of 1966–67 he returned to abstraction, this time in a distinctly personal, geometric style that clearly departed from his early abstract expressionist period The “Ocean Park” series, begun in 1967 and developed for the next 18 years, became his most famous work and resulted in approximately 135 paintings Based on the aerial landscape and perhaps the view from the window of his studio, these large-scale abstract compositions are named after a community in Santa Monica, where he had his studio Diebenkorn retired from UCLA in 1973 The Ocean Park series bridges his earlier abstract expressionist works with color field painting and lyrical abstraction He taught at this time at UCLA In 1990, Diebenkorn produced a series of six etchings for the Arion Press edition of “Poems of W B Yeats”, with poems selected and introduced by Helen Vendler
Diebenkorn died due to complications from emphysema in Berkeley on March 30, 1993
Diebenkorn’s work can be found in a number of public collections including the New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico; Honolulu Museum of Art, Honolulu, Hawaii; Albertina, Vienna, Austria; Albright–Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago; Baltimore Museum of Art; Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; the de Young Museum, San Francisco; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; Phillips Collection, Washington, DC; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York The Iris & B Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University is home to 29 of Diebenkorn’s sketchbooks as well as a collection of paintings and other works on paper
Diebenkorn had his first show at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco 1948 The first important retrospective of his work took place at the Albright–Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, in 1976–77; the show then traveled to Washington, DC, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, and Oakland In 1989 John Elderfield, then curator at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, organized a show of Diebenkorn’s works on paper, which constituted an important part of his production
In 2012, the exhibition, Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series, curated by Sarah C Bancroft, traveled to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the Orange County Museum of Art, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC
In 1991, Diebenkorn was awarded the National Medal of Arts In 1979, he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member, and became a full Academician in 1982
Albuquerque 1951 Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Seawall 1957 de Young Museum
Richard Diebenkorn was acclaimed during his lifetime as one of the most significant and influential American artists working in the decades following World War II. From 1953 to 1966, Diebenkorn lived in Berkeley, California. During these years Diebenkorn was extraordinarily productive and fully developed his working methods, favored themes, and artistic identity.
This period of intense exploration and innovation commenced with physically powerful Abstract Expressionist art that appeared to draw inspiration from the natural environment of the region, and ended with psychologically resonant representational works that played a leading role in the ascendance of the Bay Area Figurative movement. A continuing dialogue between abstraction and representation is a defining characteristic of Diebenkorn’s work and is exemplified in “Seawall”, which seamlessly integrates representation with the raw gestural brushwork, surface richness, and emphasis on the formal properties of paint and canvas that form the hallmarks of Abstract Expressionism. The intimate scale of the work contrasts with its sweeping aerial view of a coastline, which conveys a surreal sense of soaring above the landscape. From this lofty vantage the landscape below resembles a patchwork of abstract forms, while still evoking an elemental encounter of earth, sea, and sky.
Rejecting arbitrary allegiances to schools or movements, resistant to critical praise or censure, and dismissive of commercial concerns, Diebenkorn explored and expanded the modernist tradition, making major contributions to the history of both abstraction and figuration. As the artist observed, “I’m really a traditional painter, not avant-garde at all. I wanted to follow a tradition and extend it.”
Cityscape I (formerly Landscape I) 1963 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
While living in Berkeley in the early 1960s, Richard Diebenkorn painted a group of representational canvases depicting views of the city and the surrounding landscape. Here, a street is fronted on one side by a row of low, nondescript buildings and on the other by open fields and empty lots. The horizon line is high, and the palette is dominated by cool hues of green, blue, gray, and white, offset by the sandy patch of earth on the right and a small area of red at the extreme left. Diebenkorn based the painting on an existing cityscape, but he left out all the buildings on the right side of the street, creating a flatter, more geometric composition.
Ocean Park No. 29 1970 Dallas Museum of Art