This work will be included in the forthcoming Richard Diebenkorn Catalogue Raisonné under number 1513.
In 1967, Richard Diebenkorn began his iconic Ocean Park series, inventing a system of abstraction that sublimated his experience of the diverse views of Los Angeles into a compositional methodology of clear color and grand divisions. In the majestic Ocean Park #92, the artist paints with bold, large areas of color and complex geometry, signature developments of his late 1970s pictures. Central bands of deep, luminous blues and emeralds temper the work's rigorous structure, while its monumental dimensions convey the artist's towering height and vast lateral stretch of his arms. Painted in 1976, it was included that same year in his national retrospective organized by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. As one of the most contemporary works of the show, Ocean Park #92 undoubtedly influenced the museum's director and commissioner of the next Venice Biennale, Robert T. Buck Jr., to choose Diebenkorn as the 1978 American representative.
In Ocean Park #92, horizontal expanses of bright blue and jade green are framed within bands of yellow and washed white. Given the work's monumental scale, Diebenkorn paints with remarkable detail and sensitivity to material, animating even his broadly-brushed color with directional strokes, faint diagonals and subtle drips. Diebenkorn preferred to work directly and intuitively on canvas rather than making preliminary studies, and his visible revisions find instant translation in paint. Along the edges, partially erased grid lines and shadowy glazes reveal Diebenkorn's nuanced additive and subtractive process. The worked-over surfaces illustrate Diebenkorn's goal to evoke "a feeling of strength in reserve--tension beneath the calm" (R. Diebenkorn quoted in J. Livingston, The Art of Richard Diebenkorn, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1997, p. 24). While the artist continuously explored the tension between the picture's flat surface and illusionistic space, the dialectic in Ocean Park #92 is particularly strong, as the painted series of rectilinear frames emphasize the planar surface whilst simultaneously disguising the perfectly symmetrical structure of the canvas.
The work's bands of blue, green and sand evoke the horizontal expanses of sea, sky and land along the California coast. By favoring hues with such naturalistic associations, Diebenkorn allows for a poetic allusiveness traditionally associated with the lyrical inclinations of landscape painting. Named for the semi-industrial neighborhood in Santa Monica where he worked, Ocean Park #92 retains a distinct sense of place--even with his non-referential schema. In fact, the abstract format allowed him to access new arenas of painting that were previously out of reach. According to Diebenkorn, "The abstract paintings permit an allover light which wasn't possible for me in the representational works" (R. Diebenkorn, quoted in G. Nordland, The Ocean Park Series: Recent Work, exh. cat., Marlborough Gallery, New York, 1971, p. 11). Ocean Park #92 exemplifies the artist's formal reduction in the 1970s, with its large, geometric expanses of flat color that recall Piet Mondrian's constructivist pictures. According to curator Jane Livingston, Diebenkorn's late 1970s pictures "are severely, even statically, structured in perpendiculars defining planar edges" (J. Livingston, The Art of Richard Diebenkorn, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1997, p. 32).
In this period, the artist also limited his color range to two or three chromatic families, painting Ocean Park #92 in mostly green, blue and creamy buff. These deeply pigmented areas convey the muscularity and controlled pathos of Clyfford Still at his coarsest, but also the sensuous, light-filled chromatic spaces of Mark Rothko. Diebenkorn became familiar with their work while working alongside both artists at San Francisco's California School of Fine Art in 1949. Still proved to be particularly influential, thanks to his strong presence in San Francisco and his similar appreciation of the West's vast terrain. According to Still, Diebenkorn's expansive planes of jagged color were inspired by the "awful bigness, the drama of [Western] land" (C. Still, quoted in J.T. Demetrion, Clyfford Still: Paintings, 1944-1960, exh. cat., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., 2001, p. 6).
Ocean Park #92's coloration and radical treatment of perspective also recall the work of Henri Matisse, particularly his monumental works of the early 1900s. Diebenkorn saw such works first hand in 1964, when he visited the Soviet Union on a Cultural Exchange grant from the U.S. State Department. Matisse's Game of Bowls in the Hermitage Museum, exhibits similar tonalities of green, cobalt and nude seen in Ocean Park No. 92. However, despite Diebenkorn's similar composition and palette, his 1976 work achieves the atmospheric lightness of the place, an emotionally and physically altogether different location to Matisse's Hermitage painting.
"Diebenkorn's is a reductiveness based not on theory, nor on prior notions of the physicality of the sheet of paper or the stretched canvas. It is a reductiveness even harder won, since it is grounded in a long process...a physical positing of ideas followed by their correction or restructuring; and it is a process that only sometimes leads to true reduction" (J. Livingston, The Art of Richard Diebenkorn, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1997, p. 24). Ocean Park No. 92, with its coarsely brushed color and visibly re-worked lines, illustrates the artist's indefatigable investigation of pure painting. His negotiated space and multi-layered surface present imperfections and traces of paint like records of his creative process, poetically evoking the passage of time. Explaining his necessarily laborious process, the artist said, "I guess never in Ocean Park has there been a one-day painting, from blank canvas to finish. There are probably almost no two-day paintings. I think there are a few [finished in] a week, five days--others have maybe gone on for a year...I look at them and say, 'My God...what was the bind, why was I so torn up and stopped, and blocked?' And I can just see that [sometimes] the technique is blasting-powder rather than steady struggle" (R.Diebenkorn, quoted in S. Larsen, "Tape Recorded Interview with Richard Diebenkorn," May 1, 2 & 7, 1985 and December 1987," Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., p. 143). In Ocean Park #92, Diebenkorn's meditative process distills the big sea, refracted light, and ashen concrete of his Santa Monica neighborhood. The artist's creamy color and revised line reveal the infinitesimal nuances made by his own human hand. Diebenkorn's pentimenti provide access to his lengthy process, and only through this method of picture making with paint can one fully articulate the ineffable beauty of his specific time and place.