Diebenkorn was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1922. When he was an infant, his family moved to San Francisco. After a spell in the Marines during World War II, he would return to that city to attend the California School of Arts and Crafts.
As a young man, his artwork was influenced by that of Paul Cezanne and Henri Matisse. A key lesson he learned was the organisation of perspectival space into flattened planes.
By the turn of the 1950s, Diebenkorn was making Abstract Expressionist series such as ‘Berkeley’, which boasted flamboyant brushwork and an active sense of improvisation.
In 1956, he suddenly began a decade of painting representational pictures: cityscapes and still lifes notable among them. Alongside the likes of David Park and Elmer Bischoff, he became associated with the Bay Area Figurative Movement.
Other works from this period featured contemplative figures caught between interior and exterior spaces. A well-known example is the lady sipping from a cup, seated in a chair before an open window, in the painting Coffee (today part of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s collection).
In 1967, Diebenkorn moved to Southern California and took up abstraction anew. He embarked on the series for which he is most famous, ‘Ocean Park’, named after the neighbourhood in Santa Monica where he lived. It consists of 145 paintings (and many more drawings) and took Diebenkorn 21 years to complete. The works represent an evocative fusion of landscape, architecture, light, colour, order and space.
In May 2018, a painting from the series, Ocean Park #126, sold at Christie’s for $23,937,500. This set a record for the most expensive price ever paid for a work by Diebenkorn at auction.
The artist represented his country at the 1978 Venice Biennale and was awarded the National Medal of Arts from the US government in 1991. He died two years later.