richard diebenkorn: the berkeley years

richard diebenkorn may be best known for his ocean park paintings and drawings…

richard diebenkorn (1922-1993) | ocean park #140 | oil on canvas | 1985

the last large scale painting in the ocean park cycle

deibenkorn created the ocean park cycle in santa monica, CA from 1967-1988

photo credit art in the studio

or, for his cityscapes…

richard diebenkorn (1922-1993) | cityscape, landscape 1 | oil on canvas | 1963

san francisco museum of modern art (sfmoma) | san francisco, CA

photo credit famsf | (c) 2013 the richard diebenkorn foundation

along with joan mitchell and helen frankenthaler, richard diebenkorn is one of my favorite post-war american artists.

 so, of course we attended the preview of richard diebenkorn:  the berkeley years-1953-1966, an exhibition of over 130 works that opened at the de young museum in san francisco, CA on 22 june 2013.  my husband, bob, and i enjoyed the exhibition so much that we are going back to see it again before it closes on 29 september 2013.

diebenkorn’s work is often grouped into periods according to where he lived because his location often inspired his work.  diebenkorn lived in berkeley, CA from 1953 until 1966, when he moved to santa monica, CA.  although diebenkorn’s berkeley period paintings and drawings established him as an abstract artist, his berkeley period actually included two phases:  an abstract phase from 1953-1956, followed by a representational phase from 1955-1967.

richard diebenkorn (1922-1993) | berkeley #3 | oil on canvas | 1953

fine art museums of san francisco (famsf) | san francisco, CA

photo credit famsf | (c) 2013 the richard diebenkorn foundation

richard diebenkorn (1922-1993) | berkeley #5 | oil on canvas | 1953

private collection

photo credit christie’s

richard diebenkorn (1922-1993) | berkeley #7 | oil on canvas | 1953

mildred lane kemper art museum | washington university | st louis, MO

photo credit kemper art museum

richard diebenkorn (1922-1993) | berkeley #8 | oil on canvas | 1954

north carolina museum of art (ncma) | raleigh, NC

photo credit ncma

richard diebenkorn (1922-1993) | berkeley #12 | oil on canvas | 1954

the phillips collection | washington, DC

photo credit the phillips collection

richard diebenkorn (1922-1993) | berkeley #15 | oil on canvas | 1954

new mexico museum of art | santa fe, NM

photo credit new mexico museum of art

richard diebenkorn (1922-1993) | berkeley #19 | oil on canvas | 1954

university of arizona museum of art (uama) | tuscon, AZ

photo credit uama

richard diebenkorn (1922-1993) | berkeley #22 | oil on canvas | 1954

hirshorn museum and sculpture garden | smithsonian institution | washington, DC

photo credit hirshorn museum and sculpture garden

richard diebenkorn (1922-1993) | berkeley #33 | oil on canvas | 1954

private collection

photo credit wikipaintings

‘what i was really up to in painting, 

what i enjoyed exclusively, was altering-

changing what was before me-

by way of subtracting 

or juxtaposition 

or superimposition

of different ideas.’

-richard diebenkorn

diebenkorn composed berkeley #23 in 1954, and then reworked it in 1955.

richard diebenkorn (1922-1993) | berkeley #23 | oil on canvas | 1955

san francisco museum of modern art (sfmoma) | san francisco, CA

photo credit sfmoma | (c) richard diebenkorn foundation

in 1957, articles in ARTnews* and LIFE magazines expanded diebenkorn’s national reputation as an abstract artist.

‘look of the west inspires new art’ | LIFE magazine | november 4, 1957 | page 67

richard diebenkorn (1922-1993) | berkeley #44 | oil on canvas | 1955

private collection

photo credits google books and famsf | (c) 2013 the richard diebenkorn foundation
but, by then, his work was shifting from abstraction to representation.  diebenkorn described chabot valley, painted in 1955, as his first representational landscape painting.

richard diebenkorn (1922-1993) | chabot valley | oil on canvas | 1955

collection of christopher diebenkorn

photo credit wikipaintings

richard diebenkorn (1922-1993) | coffee | oil on canvas | 1959

san francisco museum of modern art (sfmoma) | san francisco, CA

photo credit sfmoma | (c) richard diebenkorn foundation

richard diebenkorn (1922-1993) | bottles | oil on canvas | 1960

norton simon museum | pasadena, CA

photo credit norton simon museum | (c) 2008 estate of richard diebenkorn

richard diebenkorn (1922-1993) | interior with doorway | oil on canvas | 1962

pennsylvania academy of the fine arts (pafa) | philadelphia, PA

photo credit pafa

interior with view of buildings combines the four major themes of diebenkorn’s berkeley period representational work:  landscapes, figures, still life, and interiors.

richard diebenkorn (1922-1993) | interior with view of buildings | oil on canvas | 1962

cincinnati art museum | cincinnati, OH

photo credit cincinnati art museum
in 1964, the US state department invited diebenkorn to visit the soviet union on a cultural exchange grant.  while visiting the soviet union, he saw the extraordinary matisse collections at the pushkin state museum of fine arts in moscow and the state hermitage museum in leningrad, which were then inaccessible to most of the world.  even though this was not the artist’s first exposure to the work of henri matisse,** this experience influenced his late berkeley period drawings and paintings, which incorporated matisse-like decorative patterns, saturated colors, flat picture planes, and geometric compositions.

richard diebenkorn (1922-1993) | recollections of a visit to leningrad | oil on canvas | 1965

private collection

diebenkorn also saw the henri matisse. retrospective 1966. exhibition at the university of california, los angeles (ucla) art gallery.

henri matisse (1869-1954) | zulma | gouache and cut and pasted paper | 1950

statens museum for kunst (smk) | copenhagen, denmark

richard diebenkorn (1922-1993) | untitled (yellow collage) | gouache and cut and pasted paper | 1966

collection of gretchen and richard grant

photo credits smk | (c) succession h. matisse/billedkunst copydan 2012 and famsf | (c) 2013 the richard diebenkorn foundation

does diebenkorn’s late berkeley period work seem like a transition from representation to abstraction?

richard diebenkorn (1922-1993) | ocean park #19 | oil on canvas | 1968

san francisco museum of modern art (sfmoma) | san francisco, CA

photo credit sfmoma | (c) richard diebenkorn foundation

notes to myself on beginning a painting:

1. attempt what is not certain. certainty may or may not come later. it may then be a valuable delusion.

2. the pretty, initial position, which falls short of completeness, is not to be valued-except as a stimulus for further moves.

3. do search. but in order to find other than what is searched for.

4. use and respond to the initial fresh qualities, but consider them absolutely expendable.

5. don’t ‘discover’ a subject-of any kind.

6. somehow don’t be bored-but if you must, use it in action. use its destructive potential.

7. mistakes can’t be erased, but they move you from your present position.

8. keep thinking about polyanna.

9. tolerate chaos.

10. be careful only in a perverse way. 

-richard diebenkorn

click here to read my previous post about richard diebenkorn.

*’diebenkorn paints a picture’, ARTnews, volume 56 number 3, may 1957, pages 44-47, 54-55.

**in 1952, diebenkorn saw the matisse retrospective, organized by alfred barr for the museum of modern art in new york, NY, at the municipal art gallery in los angeles, CA.

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