SynopsisRichard Diebenkorn was an American painter who came to define the California school of Abstract Expressionism of the early 1950s. Although he moved back and forth between making abstract and figural paintings throughout his career, his version of became an important counterpart to the more well-known brand of the movement popularized by such New York artists as and .
Key Ideas / Information
ChildhoodTwo years after Richard Diebenkorn was born in Portland, Oregon on April 22, 1922, his family relocated to San Francisco. Although his parents were not particularly supportive of his interest in the arts, Diebenkorn found encouragement in his grandmother, who fostered his visual imagination by giving him illustrated books, taking him to local galleries and impressing upon him a love for European heraldic imagery. Diebenkorn disappointed his father by choosing to major in the arts rather than the more pragmatic pursuits of law or medicine at Stanford University, where he began his undergraduate studies in 1940. Daniel Mendolowitz, one of his art history professors and mentors, introduced the aspiring painter to the work of modernists such as Henri Matisse and Edward Hopper, whose works would prove formative to Diebenkorn's artistic development.
Early TrainingDiebenkorn's earliest paintings reflect his interest in Hopper's style, as they depict realistic American scenes with stark contrasts between shadow and light. Although his early work is predominantly figural (that is, portraying real imagery rather than abstract forms), Diebenkorn transitioned between representational and abstract work throughout his career - a seeming indecisiveness that would come to characterize his artistic personality. However, this spoke more to his keen interest in exploring all manners of art-making than to a deep vacillation.
Diebenkorn married his fellow Stanford student Phyllis Gilman in June of 1943, and enlisted directly after in the U.S. Marine Corps where he served two years. While stationed at the base in Quantico, Virginia, Diebenkorn took the opportunity to visit the East Coast's most important collections of modern art, including MoMA, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.
Upon his return to San Francisco in 1946, Diebenkorn took advantage of the GI Bill by enrolling at the California School of Fine Arts. He became a faculty member at the school the following year, after spending a winter painting in the vibrant artistic community of Woodstock, New York.
Mature PeriodAlways looking for a change of scenery, he moved his family to Albuquerque to pursue his Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of New Mexico in 1950. The contacts he made traveling, teaching, and learning at these different universities had a huge impact on the young artist, who participated in a great exchange of ideas. Albuquerque in the early 1950s was where his Abstract Expressionist period truly began, which lasted roughly five years through his move to Illinois and back to California. Taking inspiration from the forms and colors he saw in the surrounding desert, Diebenkorn layered bright planes of color in organic shapes with bold markings. Borrowing the techniques of the Abstract Expressionists in New York in the 1940s, Diebenkorn imbued the movement with his specific personality by relying on his physical environment in the Southwest as the source material for his painting.
Late Period and deathAlong with the friends he had made at various teaching positions, including David Park, Diebenkorn became a central member of the Bay Area Figurative Movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which rejected Abstract Expressionism in favor of a return to figural representation. Apparently, the freedom of gesture and composition in his Abstract Expressionist period was ultimately not to his liking. Eventually, however, Diebenkorn came to strike a balance between the use of abstract and figural elements in his work. His Ocean Park series, for example, consisting of one hundred and forty paintings made over twenty-five years until his death in 1993, catapulted the mature artist into the national spotlight. These paintings are clearly abstract, but in a much more geometric and planned way than his Abstract Expressionist works of the 1950s. If both his Abstract Expressionist paintings and his Ocean Park series represent aerial landscapes, the former are intuitive and impulsive while the latter are coldly delineated rational spaces. A comparison of the two shows just how far Diebenkorn's abstract vocabulary had evolved throughout his career.
Diebenkorn worked on drawings and paintings until falling ill in 1992. He died on March 30, 1993 due to complications from emphysema at the age of seventy-one.
LegacyRichard Diebenkorn achieved a rare feat in the life of an artist, which is to approach painting from many different angles and to take earnest inspiration from other artists while maintaining originality. Although Diebenkorn did not reach the level of fame of Abstract Expressionists of the New York School, his influence on artists of the latter half of the twentieth century is undeniable.
Below are Richard Diebenkorn's major influences, and the people and ideas that he influenced in turn.
Willem De Kooning
European Modernist Painting
American Modernist Painting
Years Worked: 1940 - 1993
Quotes"It wasn't art that I was interested in; it was drawing and painting.. I had no real understanding of drawing and painting as art."
"I'm really a traditional painter, not avant-garde at all. I wanted to follow a tradition and extend it."
"I'm very old-fashioned. Though I'm interested in most of the new art, painting remains for me a very physical thing, an involvement with a tangible feeling of sensation. "
"The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued - except as a stimulus for further moves."
WHERE TO SEE WORKS:
Museum of Modern Artwww.MoMA.org
Metropolitan Museum of Artwww.METmuseum.org
The Art of Richard Diebenkorn
The San Francisco School of Abstract Expressionism
Written by ArtistRichard Diebenkorn: Paintings and drawings
Richard Diebenkorn: Small Paintings from Ocean Park
PaintingsRichard Diebenkorn in New Mexico
Slideshow: Richard Diebenkorn in New Mexico
The New York Times
January 24, 2008
Richard Diebenkorn, Lyrical Painter, Dies at 71
The New York Times
March 31, 1993
A Painter Unafraid to Change Styles
The New York Times
October 10, 1997
God is in the Vectors
December 8, 1997
Hail, Richard Diebenkorn. So Heroic, So Underrated!
The New York Observer
October 19, 1997
Oral history interview
Susan Larsen with Richard Diebenkorn
Richard Diebenkorn Paintings
Slideshow with music
Websites about artist
Art, Paintings, Biography, and Info
|A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and 1950s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraces the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the post-war mood of anxiety and trauma.
ArtStory: Abstract Expressionism Page
|Jackson Pollock was the most well-known Abstract Expressionist and the key example of Action Painting. His work ranges from Jungian scenes of primitive rites to the purely abstract "drip paintings" of his later career.
ArtStory: Jackson Pollock Page
|Willem de Kooning, a Dutch immigrant to New York, was one of the foremost Abstract Expressionist painters. His abstract compositions drew on Surrealist and figurative traditions, and typified the expressionistic 'gestural' style of the New York School.
ArtStory: Willem De Kooning Page
|Clyfford Still was a leading first-generation Abstract Expressionist. His mature works are large-scale paintings with gaping chasms and stains of jagged color, often in dark earth tones.
ArtStory: Clyfford Still Page
|Arshile Gorky was an Armenian-born American painter and was a major influence on the development of Abstract Expressionism. In his own art he fused elements of Cubism, Surrealism and Expressionism, and was close with key figures central to New York's burgeoning abstrct art scene, such as John Graham, Stuart Davis and Willem de Kooning.
ArtStory: Arshile Gorky Page
|Mark Rothko was an Abstract Expressionist painter whose early interest in mythic landscapes gave way to mature works featuring large, hovering blocks of color on colored grounds.
ArtStory: Mark Rothko Page
|Edward Hopper was an American painter and printmaker during the early-mid 20th century, and was best known for his realist depictions of urban cityscapes, rendered with a signature solemnity. Although a realist, Hopper believed his art lacked the sentimentality or glamorization often found in realist art.
|David Park was an American painter who helped establish the Bay Area Figurative School. In the mid-20th century, he and several others broke away from the favored artistic mode of pure abstraction and began using representative figures as well as natural shapes, colors and forms.
|Daniel Mendelowitz was a 20th-century painter and art teacher. Known primarily as a scenery painter in the Neo-Classical and Realist styles, Mendelowitz's art depicts landscapes around northern California, where he lived and taught.
|European Modernist Painting began in mid-19th-century Paris with the likes of Edouard Manet, Gustave Courbet and Eugene Delacroix, whose Romantic and Realist paintings greatly influenced the French Impressionists years later. Moving forward into the 20th century, modern art forms became increasingly abstract, and artists' subject matter became more personal and politicized. Small groups of Europeans would found movements like Fauvism, Expressionism, Futurism, Surrealism, and perhaps the most famous of all, Cubism.
|American Modernist Painting began to coalesce with the Armory Show of 1913, and lasted through the Great Depression. American modernists were diverse, including Precisionists, scene painters, and abstractionists, and looked both to Europe and to homegrown styles for their influence.
|Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
ArtStory: Cubism Page
|Clement Greenberg was one the leading American art critics during the 20th century. Best known as the ideological counterpart to Harold Rosenberg, Greenberg was a formalist who coined the terms "American-type painting" and 'Post-painterly abstraction.' He was a staunch champion of pure abstraction, including the work of Pollock, Still and Hofmann.
ArtStory: Clement Greenberg Page