FIRST PERSON: by Jack Atkinson
In 1966 Richard Clifford Diebenkorn began teaching at UCLA and moved to Santa Monica, to a neighborhood called Ocean Park, where he made the transition again to abstraction. First, he painted landscapes that were strikingly like the later color field non-objective works in the Ocean Park Series. That series consists of 140 numbered paintings that he worked on for 20 years.
Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park Series: Form and color as poetic metaphor.
An Exhibition at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth featured more than 75 paintings, prints, and drawings, spanning two decades of Diebenkorn’s most celebrated Ocean Park Series—the largest selection of his work ever on view together. With works in various media, the exhibition presented a long-overdue opportunity to explore the variety, subtlety, and intricacy of “The Ocean Park Series” and the artist’s range. Many of the works were from private collections and rarely seen in a public venue.
Richard Clifford Diebenkorn, Jr. (1922-1993) was born in April in Portland, Oregon. When he was two years old, his father, a hotel supply sales executive, relocated the family to San Francisco. Diebenkorn attended school there, then entered Stanford University in 1940 concentrating on studio arts and art history where he became interested in one of his great influences, Edward Hopper. While there he also visited the home of Gertrude Stein’s sister-in-law, Sarah Stein, to see works by the the great modern European painters. At Stanford he met and married fellow student Phyllis Gilman.
Diebenkorn served as a Marine during WWII. In 1946, after returning from duty, he returned to San Francisco to study but soon received a fellowship to spend a year in Woodstock NY with fellow artists looking to find their way in the new “abstract” world of art.
Richard again returned to San Francisco to teach at California School of Fine Arts and in 1950 he enrolled in The University of New Mexico for graduate school. His graduate work of soft scrubbed flat colors hinted at his ultimate style, although at the time he was influenced by Clyfford Still and Arshile Gorky so the shapes were all random and organic, not geometric. In Albuquerque he experienced a viewing of the landscape from a low-flying plane. He then combined flat patches of color in stylized landscapes with this aerial perspective into an artistic style which flowered. This is also the time, he established his pattern of working simultaneously with large-scale oil paintings on canvas and with small experimental works on paper.
For the next 16 years – through various teaching positions and fellowships – he moved around from Sausalito, to Urbana Illinois, to NYC, to a residency in the Soviet Union as a cultural exchange through the State Department, and back to Berkley.
In 1966 Diebenkorn moved from teaching at Stanford to accepting a position at UCLA, so the family moved to Santa Monica, California in southern California. He began working in a studio, located near a beach known as Ocean Park. It was here the artist flourished, he embarked on his most famous and important works – a cycle of paintings and drawings known as “The Ocean Park Series”. He was now working in his own invented abstract language, which he would pursue for the next 20 years. During this time both the drawings and paintings became ever more richly chromatic and compositionally complex.
In 1976–77, a major exhibition of his work, organized by the Albright-Knox museum, traveled to from Buffalo to DC, NYC, Cincinnati, LA and Oakland. By 1976, having had major annual shows in NYC for the past 10 years and now with a traveling museum retrospective, Diebenkorn was regarded as a well-established American master and closely associated with California. Although Diebenkorn lived all over the US, his classification as a “California Artist” has become a large part of his identity. Because of his acceptance as a world-class artist he is credited as elevating the stature of the California art scene in eyes of the art world.
In late 1992, the Diebenkorns moved from their home in Healdsburg, CA to their Berkeley apartment, to be near medical treatment. Richard Diebenkorn died there from the complications of emphysema on March 30, 1993.
The eras in Diebenkorn’s career: His “wartime” work, the Sausalito Period, the “Albuquerque Period”, the “Urbana Period”, the “Berkeley Period”, 1955’s exhaustively experimental figure drawings and still life drawings, at the Poindexter Gallery in New York, a 1964 lyrical group of figure drawings, the late figurative period, 1980/81 the “Clubs and Spades” drawings, 1988 small scale, gem-like, quirkily decorative works, the late etchings illustrating a book of poems by W.B. Yeats.
Note: Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park Series were all titiled with only numbers.
(Sources: Diebenkorn.org, themodern.org, Wikipedia, The Art Institute of Chicago, Gagosian, FergusGallery.com, CBS Sunday Morning)