Richard Diebenkorn

On entering the Diebenkorn exhibition at the RA I realised how much I have missed glorious, unashamed colour in recent exhibitions by Marlene Dumas and Anselm Kiefer.  That isn’t to say I didn’t really enjoy the Kiefer exhibition, I just find that colour, as used by Diebenkorn, Frankenthaler and others from the  Colour-field period, so uplifting after a long winter.

Adrian Searle writing in the Guardian

‘Each painting is like a diary of the act of painting.  Diebenkorn became a delicious colourist.’  ‘Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park paintings occupy a sort of hinterland. They’re a beautiful distraction, paintings to lose your way inside. They’re not quite landscapes, not geometric abstractions and not exactly colour-field painting either. They belong to a time and place but have in them times and places all their own. They’re accumulations of incident within a larger scheme of things. You can see Diebenkorn thinking as he paints, getting lost, turning back, wandering off into the fields, finding the larger view.’

Sausalito - Richard Diebenkorn

Sausalito 1948-49

It is the journey, particularly visible in the Ocean Park work, that holds the viewer’s attention.  Lines and form, lost in the mist of time.  A place to stop and stare.

I agree with Searle that the exhibition could have included more work.

Martin Gayford in the Spectator writes ‘Diebenkorn’s first mature works, dating from the early 1950s, have a slightly familiar look to a British eye. It is hard, in the first room of the show, not to find the words ‘St Ives’.  A contemporary of Peter Lanyon and Patrick Heron, working in New Mexico rather than Penwith.’  ‘He made paintings filled with light and space, which also had a certain down-to-earth grittiness. For more than 20 years, from 1966 to ’86, he worked in Ocean Park, a district of southern Santa Monica abutting Venice Beach. This is a sort of Californian Brighton, a seaside town, slightly Bohemian and definitely relaxed.’

‘His art does survive the journey from the West Coast to the Thames, but a little goes a long way and only the best years are really worth savouring.’

Whilst wanting to see more of Diebenkorn’s work, I understand where Gayford is coming from.  The middle room focused on figurative work.   ‘He also produced Matisse-like nudes and a few still lifes — one a nicely angular study of a pair of scissors — but his heart didn’t really seem to be in either genre.’

Ocean Park #54

Ocean Park 54 – 1971

What went unmentioned by the critics were the gems of work painted on cigar boxes, encapsulating the magnificence of the larger works in miniature.  (an excellent article on Diebenkorn, not related to the RA exhibition.

These are particularly inspiring for me, as I grapple with the task of scaling up my work.

Author: susanmilleruk

Watercolour painter living, working and loving Hastings and St Leonards on Sea. MA in Fine Art.

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