Richard Diebenkorn


1922, Portland, Oregon
1993, Berkeley, Bay Area


Richard Diebenkorn grew up in San Francisco and attended Stanford University, and later the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). Although well established as an abstract painter, Diebenkorn returned to figuration in the mid-1950s. He incorporated the dominant expressive painting style into representational canvases, often landscapes.

In 1966, he moved to Santa Monica and returned to quasi-geometric abstraction, though his work continued to evoke the landscape and the hazy coastal light of Southern California. Like his earlier works, Diebenkorn's later abstractions allow the accumulated drawn and painted traces of his painstaking process to remain visible.

In 1988, he returned to live in Northern California, where failing health forced him to concentrate on small-scale works until his death five years later.

Richard Diebenkorn describes why natural light is so important to his process, and how his studio windows inspired his work.

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How did geography shape Diebenkorn’s work?

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These are paintings that are observed landscapes.



Curator Gary Garrels



These paintings are made in a studio. They’re not an artist working out in the landscape. So they’re recollections, they’re memories, they’re impressions of a landscape that the artist is living and working in.


Diebenkorn grew up here in the Bay Area, but left and then came back and embarked on a series of paintings we call the Berkeley paintings. These are paintings, when you live here in the Bay Area, when you know the landscape here, the light, the shifting colors of the hills, depending on the seasons, you really see and feel a visceral connection.


He worked on these for only about two years, and by 1956, had given up abstraction and was painting figurative works. By 1967, I think Diebenkorn felt he had done what he needed to do with figurative painting. He moved to Los Angeles and began a new series of paintings, fully abstracted, which we call the Ocean Park series.


And I cannot imagine them except in relationship to the landscape of Southern California, the light and the landscape are very, very different from Northern California. They don’t have fog down there, they have what they call marine layer. It just shimmers there in the early morning light. It’s a much more diaphanous, much calmer.


I think of the Ocean Park paintings as probably Diebenkorn’s greatest achievement. They’re singular work, very grounded in his own experience, now distilled after many years of painting, into a mature, sophisticated, subtle way of making fully abstract works.

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