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FROM THIS EPISODE

Driving along the PCH, which I make a point of doing every week, I marvel at the ever changing colors of sky and sea and the refracted light, all so difficult to realize in painting. However, a close approximation comes at the hand of Richard Diebenkorn, (1922-1993), who lived in the Santa Monica neighborhood of Ocean Park from 1966 to 1985. Seventy-five paintings and works on paper, geometric abstractions from his Ocean Park Series, are on view at the Orange County Museum of Art through May 27. They were inspired indirectly by the low-rise stucco buildings, pitched roads, beach and ocean, all with walking distance of the Main Street studio that he took over from painter Sam Francis.

Diebenkorn_OP24.jpg

Richard Diebenkorn: Ocean Park #24, 1969
Oil on canvas, 93 3/4 x 77 1/2 in. (238.1 x 196.9 cm)
Yale University Art Gallery, The Twigg-Smith Collection
Gift of Laila and Thurston Twigg-Smith, B.E. 1942
©The Estate of Richard Diebenkorn
Image courtesy Yale University Art Gallery

These tightly organized compositions are fully resolved balancing acts of flat color against atmospheric washes, hard lines delineating as well as denying dimensionality. Seemingly simple, they are almost excruciatingly complex upon prolonged examination. They seem to embody the misty, magical qualities of marine light.

Diebenkorn_OP43.jpg

Richard Diebenkorn: Ocean Park #43, 1971
Oil and charcoal on canvas, 93 x 81 in. (236.2 x 205.7 cm)
Collection of Gretchen and John Berggruen, San Francisco
©The Estate of Richard Diebenkorn
Image courtesy the Estate of Richard Diebenkorn

Diebenkorn himself observed, "Non-painters often say, 'What a lovely light there,’ but I myself don’t see it. My own approach is very different. I see the light only at the end of working on a painting. I mean, I discover the light of a place gradually, and only through painting it."

Diebenkorn_OP79.jpg

Richard Diebenkorn: Ocean Park #79, 1975
Oil on canvas, 93 x 81 in. (236.2 x 205.7 cm)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts

and with funds contributed by private donors, 1977
©The Estate of Richard Diebenkorn
Image courtesy the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Diebenkorn had success as a Bay Area abstract expressionist before switching to figurative painting in 1955. In 1965, a retrospective of his early work was held at the Pavilion Gallery in Newport Beach, which became the Orange County Museum of Art. The following year, he started teaching at UCLA. Though younger artists in L.A. were experimenting with plastics and glass, light and space, language and media, Diebenkorn found his own brand of freedom. His doggedly pursued a highly personal vocabulary of abstraction and over the course of the next 20 years, completed 145 paintings and 500 works on paper of Ocean Park. There are some beauties included in this exhibition, which was organized and nicely installed by OCMA curator Sarah C. Bancroft.

Diebenkorn_Untitled-1975.jpg

Richard Diebenkorn: Untitled, 1975
Acrylic, gouache, and pasted paper on paper, 11 3/4 x 8 1/2 in. (29.8 x 21.6 cm)
The Grant Family Collection
©The Estate of Richard Diebenkorn
Image courtesy the Estate of Richard Diebenkorn


Banner image: Detail of Richard Diebenkorn's Untitled, 1975; Acrylic, gouache, and pasted paper on paper, 11 3/4 x 8 1/2 in. (29.8 x 21.6 cm); The Grant Family Collection ©The Estate of Richard Diebenkorn; Image courtesy the Estate of Richard Diebenkorn

Richard Diebenkorn

Sarah Bancroft

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