October 12, 2009

Richard Diebenkorn

Yellow Porch, 1961, oil on canvas

American painter Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) is known for several important periods of work during his lifetime - from his early Abstract Expressionist explorations, to working in a bold figurative manner associated with the Bay Area Figurative School, and finally to an incredible series of geometric abstractions titled the Ocean Park series.   

Seated Figure with Hat, 1967, oil on canvas

From Richard Diebenkorn by Gerald Nordland, published by Rizzoli International, 1987:

"His concept of a painter is one who doesn't know when to stop and who wears himself out painting. This approach is obvious in the scope of his work which reflects the nervous, dynamic energy of our time. The dribbles of paint that are often evident on his canvases are accidental and are not there deliberately as they might be in a painting of Jackson Pollock. Diebenkorn's methods of painting prohibit this kind of technique. In one moment he is working feverishly, up and down, side to side and the whole painting changes rapidly. As a result it is impossible for him to revise around an area of a painting that has pleased him. One form he sees only in relationship to another form and these relationships to him are in constant flux. The result is a singular quality of movement, of action in his work, and the dribbling, the scraping of some of his lines, merely underscore the individuality of his vision. It is this sharp, crude, dramatic division of space that has given many viewers an impression of the loneliness, the jagged opposition and distances, of western landscapes." - an early description of the artist's painting process by the playwright James Schevill 

Ocean Park No. 24, 1969, oil on canvas

"There seems to be no reason to doubt that Diebenkorn's Berkeley series of abstract expressionist paintings could have continued as long as have the New York style abstract works of de Kooning and Motherwell. A rising tide of approval greeted abstract expressionist painting, and second-generation artists were receiving serious recognition. It was to be more than five years before the pop art and minimalist counter insurgencies were felt, and, in fact, abstract expressionism was far from its peak of gallery, magazine, and museum enthusiasm in 1955, when Diebenkorn began to suffer some disturbing second thoughts about his work. While his respect for the first-generation leaders of abstract expressionism never flagged, he began to see only "some pretty poor contemporary work" among second-generation followers. He sensed a problem in abstract expressionist painting and he was testing his own work against the tradition of modernism he had encountered.

I came to mistrust my desire to explode the picture and supercharge it in some way. At one time the common device of using the super emotional to get "in gear" with a painting used to serve me for access to painting, but I mistrust that now. I think what is more important is a feeling of strength in reserve - tensions beneath calm."
Ocean Park No. 45, 1971, oil on canvas

"For Diebenkorn "a premeditated scheme or system is out of the question" in the development of a painting. A drawing cannot be translated into a painting. The artist must begin anew with each painting, feeling out the size of the canvas and the rhythms that seem right to the particular proportions chosen on a particular day. Diebenkorn cannot "design" a painting in his head, but must try out his thoughts, adjusting as necessary. Early stages often appear to be very promising as they emerge in graphite, charcoal, and color. The artist may distrust the ease with which these stages develop at the same time that he pursues the possibilities they allow. The graphite and charcoal give him flexibility to erase and correct easily, but once the painting has taken over he feels less able to change and he finds himself slower to make changes. Each decision relates to every successive one and it is necessary at every stage of the painting's development to work with the conviction that this is the final stage and nearing completion. If adjustments and corrections are required, they must be handled consistently. At the next studio session he may find a weakness and he will enter the work through that weakness and reconceive the whole. The painting becomes fluid again and the whole can be changed in appearance while the feeling may remain very much the same. At the final stage, the painter finds himself freed and his emotion exists complete and separate from him and his effort." 

Ocean Park No. 123, 1980, oil on canvas

No comments:

Post a Comment