Richard Diebenkorn (1922–1993) produced, over a forty-five year span, a body of work whose beauty and mysteriously empathic nature has long attracted many devotees worldwide. He lived during the period of America’s great surge onto the world stage of visual art, working alongside the likes of Willem de Kooning, Philip Guston, and Joan Mitchell, but forging a decisively independent style. While still in his twenties he moved briefly to New York from his native San Francisco region, realizing that its artistic climate was the most stimulating locus in the United States, but soon returned to California where, aside from two important early years in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and a year teaching in Urbana, Illinois, he remained.
From a glorious early flowering in the language of Abstract Expressionism, where he responded directly to the light and landscapes of New Mexico and the urban Midwest, Diebenkorn turned to a prolonged period of making figurative and landscape art, going very much against the grain of his generation. A leader in Bay Area figurative painting, Diebenkorn produced work that was received with enormous affection and excitement by a wide audience. Then, quite abruptly in 1966, he turned to a new form of abstraction, again decisively different from his peers. Moving from Berkeley to Los Angeles, he proceeded to make the monumental abstract works known as the “Ocean Park” series, incorporating the lessons of two of his key influences, Henri Matisse and Piet Mondrian. —Jane Livingston