Bookforum: Art Books | Richard Diebenkorn: A Retrospective

September 3, 2019
By Albert Mobilio

Richard Diebenkorn, Seated Figure with Hat, 1967, oil on canvas, 57 3/4 x 61 3/4 in. (146.7 x 156.8 cm), Collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. © Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

WITH ITS SOFT YET VIBRANT YELLOWS AND REDS in a floral-patterned wallpaper set against an array of angular blues, Recollections of a Visit to Leningrad, a 1965 painting by Richard Diebenkorn, evidences the profound influence of Matisse. Diebenkorn saw works by that artist in 1964 at the State Hermitage Museum and would come to share his strong geographic identification with a sunny locale, replacing the French Riviera with the state of California, his home for most of his creative life. Titled after the Santa Monica neighborhood where he kept a studio beginning in 1967, his widely acclaimed “Ocean Park” series is often thought to be inspired by aerial views of landscapes. Although rigorously geometric, these paintings suggest both a breezy languor and open space, qualities that at one time constituted the very definition of the Californian sensibility. Along with those near-iconic works, this retrospective volume presents less familiar material—still lifes, portraits, and landscapes—completed while Diebenkorn lived in Berkeley from the late ’50s to the mid-’60s. A darker palette and a penchant for shadows generate the brooding sense of life at the continent’s edge that suffuses these images. This effect owes only in part to the contrast between representation and abstraction; it’s easier to impute emotional states to portraits than to Color Field grids.

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