Friday, January 30, 2009

Diebenkorn at Berggruen

One of the many wonderful things about this show is how you can trace Diebenkorn's trajectory from abstract painter to figurative and back into abstract imagery. The show is a lesson in a painter's path, encapsulated in a few well chosen pieces. His early abstractions include his Berkely series began in 1953 with their loose, organic imagery and intuitive style

His surfaces tell you much about how he works. He leaves in the revisions and corrections, leading to a multi-layered canvas of deceptive simplicity which reveals its underlying complexity when you look more carefully. "Getting it right" was Diebenkorn's chief objective and he did not mind revising things to realize a composition where everything is essential -- nothing is left out.

Diebenkorn was particularly stuck by the pentimenti (traces of underlying pigment) in some of the Matisse pictures, and, Livingston wrote, “These visible traces become an indispensable part of the viewer’s experience of immediacy and lend the work a king of provisional (though never unfinished) quality.

But the abstracts came to him too easily and he was concerned about creating beautiful but empty surfaces. So, he (and other like minded painters) began to return to figurative and objective painting -- straightforward, objective studies of scissors, cups, books, and other everyday items while retaining his painterly surfaces and variations on geometric design motifs.

With figuration, he said, "a kind of constraint came in that was welcomed because I had felt that in the last of the abstract paintings around '55, it was almost as though I could do too much, too easily. There was nothing hard to come up against. And suddenly the figure painting furnished a lot of this." On another occasion, he said, in regard to this specific constraint, "The figure ... takes over and rules the canvas."
In Woman in a Window (1957), the figure sits with back to the viewer, deep in thought. The shapes are simple, vivid, unified by geometric elements, simple but not simplistic.

At Stanford University, Diebenkorn fell in love with the work of Edward Hopper: “I embraced Hopper completely….It was his use of light and shade and the atmosphere….kind of drenched, saturated with mood, and its kind of austerity….It was the kind of work that just seemed made for me.” In his figurative work, shown at the gallery, he could lay claim to being far more than a disciple of Hooper but his logical successor and, in significant ways, a better painter.

Reflections on the Painting of Richard Diebenkorn: THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS, Gregory Eanes
Danto, Arthur Coleman. "Richard Diebenkorn.(Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York)." The Nation 266.n1 (Jan 5, 1998): 29(5).
Livingston, Jane. The Art of Richard Diebenkorn. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York University of California Press, 1998.
images from Berggruen website


Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm totally seeing him as one of your big influences, kiddo. How fascinating.

namastenancy said...

His work is probably the strongest single influence on mine, although I'd also add Hppper and Bonnard to the mix. I wasn't aware of Diebenkorn when I was in art school. My strongest influences then were a strange mixture of Bosch, surrealism and Kandinsky. I may even have a few pieces left from that period. But I saw a show of the Bay Area figurative painters back in 1984 and it blew me away. Still does, in fact. said...

Thank you for showing some wonderful paintings of Diebenkorn that I didn't know of.

Anonymous said...

thank you about the blog and talking of this very great painter; I did, too, in my blog (french language)