Sunday, March 15, 2015


Interior with a view of buildings  image from here
I was not fully aware of Richard Diebenkorn's work until we went to live in the USA in the early 80s, and even then I only really saw mostly commercial reproductions of his Ocean Park paintings.  Slowly I found here and there various examples of his work, especially his figurative paintings, but nothing coherently whole, so it was with great pleasure that I learned the Royal Academy was to have a retrospective exhibition of Diebenkorn's work this year.  And this morning I found it to be a beautiful, enlightening, and inspiring show.
Girl on a Terrace, image from here
There are three rooms of work, divided into the first abstract period, the figurative period, and then the final abstract, Ocean Park period.  Each room has views through to the others, and it is interesting to see just how different, and yet similar is the work from each period.
A day at the races image from here
The first room, although early work, shows pieces which not only attract immediately, but which hold the eye and reward long contemplation.  I was straightway reminded of the work of Peter Lanyon.  I do not mean that their work looks alike, but that from both of them I instantly feel a powerful need to paint the land and how it appears in the light.  I find the sense of dynamic balance in Diebenkorn's paintings exciting.  Line and plane play with light and colour in a vibrant provocative way, somehow achieving a sense of both calm and excitement.
I found that this was also true of the figurative paintings.  The figures are both at rest, but somehow animated - and as so many others have said, having an affinity with Edward Hopper's characters.  The West Coast versions here, but also somehow having more of an autonomous life outside the artist's script. 
Seated man image from here
The figures are part of the landscape.  I find that the painting is important, more than the figure or the landscape.  I can't tell you how inspirational I found this exhibition, based in this central figurative room, and spreading fore and aft to the abstract periods.
Untitled (collage) image from here
The Ocean Park paintings are the most well known, and the largest period of Diebenkorn's oeuvre.  The big paintings are architectural in scale, but approachable, inviting; but also the smaller acrylics, collages, and oils on cigar box lids work in exactly the same way.
Cigar Box Lid #4 image from here
The colour is seductive in each period, and so much part of the work - and yet the monochrome, or near-monochrome work so powerfully too - including this very early Disintegrating Pig from 1950 below (image from here).
I was also intrigued to read on one of the picture notes that Diebenkorn had been attracted to the Bayeux Tapestry in his youth.  As I live not far from the Victorian reproduction of this embroidery, I must have another look!
First I must complete my Turner 'studies', and then I shall read the beautifully produced Diebenkorn catalogue.


  1. As always, I envy all the great exhibitions that come to London! I saw and enjoyed some Deibenkorns in Los Angeles some decades ago. Vancouver is still a bit of a backwater for major contemporary art exhibitions from other countries - just not enough money I suppose.

  2. We are indeed extremely lucky with art exhibitions. I guess, however, that you have the extraordinary landscape which we don't have round home.

  3. It's been a long time since I saw paintings that have had such a strong impact on me. I knew Diebenkorn's Ocean Park paintings, but not his figurative work - wow! I am so looking forward to seeing this exhibition when we get back to the UK and in the meantime, thank you for the introduction.

  4. It's the first time we have gone to an exhibition on the first day. You have quite a while to catch this show, thank goodness.