(Ocean Park #79, 1975. Philadelphia Museum of Art, © 2016 The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)
Art Hearts: Richard Diebenkorn's California Dreamscapes
Uniquely successful in working in both abstract and figural styles, Richard Diebenkorn's work is a beautiful vision of the California coastline from which he painted. His most famous "Ocean Park" series offers a window into his own personal experience of this unique landscape, using a style inspired by aerial views of the land flying cross-country. His paintings merged the geometry of expressionism with a real sense of place offered by the aerial perspective, which gave new meaning to his abstraction and his later, more abstract works with paper and collage.
(From left to right: Cityscape #1, 1963. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, © Richard Diebenkorn Foundation; Untitled)
Diebenkorn first came to prominence in the 1950s with his abstract expressionist paintings, which were characterized by their bold use of color and fluid forms. These works were inspired by Diebenkorn's experience of living in New York City, and the abstract expressionist movement more broadly. However, in the 1960s Diebenkorn returned to his native California, and his work began to reflect the light and space of the Californian landscape. These "California landscapes" were characterized by their use of geometric forms and muted colors, and became some of Diebenkorn's most iconic works.
(Woman in Profile, 1958. Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)
(Aerial photograph, California, c. 1962, © Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)
"I guess it was the combination of desert and agriculture that really turned me on, because it has so many things I wanted in my paintings. Of course, the earth’s skin itself had ‘presence’—I mean, ...It was all like a flat design—and everything was usually in the form of an irregular grid. A bit later, I started photographing through airplane windows, and actually got quite good results."
- Richard DIebenkorn on the aerial view
(Seawall, 1957. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, © Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)
Throughout his career, Diebenkorn continued to experiment with a flat, patchwork painting style inspired by his aerial photographs and the vistas surrounding his Ocean Park studio. His work is a testament to the power of abstract art, and its ability to capture the essence of a place and a moment in time. The carefully-curated palettes presented in his landscapes are especially powerful to me, as I find them incredibly transportive to California's muted coastline. These works are a few of my favorites and are so inspiring in the dichotomy of their detail and simplicity.