Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)


Exhibition cover photo featuring a painting from the Ocean Park seriesRichard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)

At the end of April I combined a social visit to London with a trip to the Royal Academy to see an exhibition of Richard Diebenkorn’s work, running until 7 June 2015. Much admired in the United states, his work is little known over here. It was a fairly small show from which I came away with a lot to think about!

This fascinating exhibition is organised around the different periods of Diebenkorn’s artistic output. I was intrigued by the fact that chronologically his works starts out as abstract, moves to representational and then returns to abstract. Each phase of work appears to influence his future work and it was, for me, intriguing to see abstract elements in his representational landscapes.



Some of Diebenkorn’s landscapes – postcards in my sketchbook


It was Diebenkorn’s landscapes that had caught my eye when deciding to visit the exhibition as they feel different and very individual. I am particularly attracted to Sea Wall 1957, oil on canvas (see sketchbook photo) as it is, to my eye,  representational with a sense of the abstract. What makes this painting appeal to me so much? It has sharp clear lines, no soft blurred edges, bold quite blocky areas of colour applied roughly with a large brush.

Having now completed most of the first module of painting 1, I can now see that Diebenkorn has made use of differently coloured grounds in various areas of the painting and then gone over these with large, quick brush strokes using transparent oil paint. The ground colour continues to show through and is an integral element of the whole image. It is good to be able to see and understand this now.

Also see Cityscape 1963, oil on canvas

Untitled, Reinvented Landscape, 1966, acrylic on paper (see sketchbook photo)

Figure drawings


Two of Diebenkorn’s figure drawings – postcards in my sketchbook

His figure drawings are marvellous. Charcoal underdrawings sketch out the subject, sometimes in great detail, then he completes the figure with ink but he does not obliterate the charcoal lines. They are there as the history of the drawing, providing further detail for the eye to dwell on and absorb. I vow never to erase a line again!

See untitled (Striped Blouse), 1966, ink and graphite –  I particularly like the way the bold lines of the ink, applied with a relatively large brush, work with the more delicate charcoal.

Also see untitled, 1966, charcoal and ink

Early and later abstracts

Diebenkorn had the most amazing way with colour. The yellow, oranges and pinks in Berkeley #57  (1955, oil on canvas and one of his earlier abstracts) are very evocative of the place itself. These are living colours washed with the Californian sun. The exhibition blurb says that he was particularly influenced by Matisse and Mondrian. I can see Matisse’s colour palette here… the same soft but strong colours with lots of subtle variation of tone.

Another picture that called out to me was Ocean Park 103 – all washed with a white heat haze. Diebenkorn is particularly renowned for the Ocean Park series (begun in 1967 and developed over 18 years) which marked his return to abstract work. At this stage his work incorporates geometric lines (the Mondrian influence perhaps?), and soft colour suffused with light.

This quick write up for my blog doesn’t do justice to Diebenkorn’s work. He’s top of my list for a more indepth study when time and opportunity allow.


Royal Academy website |

SF Moma website |


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