Audio: Richard Diebenkorn 527-528-529
Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)
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Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)


Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)
signed with initials and dated 'RD 78' (lower right)
charcoal and acrylic on joined paper
30 3/4 x 16 3/4 in. (78.1 x 42.5 cm.)
Executed in 1978.
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
R. Newlin, ed., Richard Diebenkorn Works on Paper, Houston, 1987, pp. 120-121 (illustrated in color).
XXXVIII Venice Biennale, American Pavilion, From Nature to Art, from Art to Nature: Richard Diebenkorn, July-October 1978, p. 60, no. 24 (illustrated).
San Francisco, John Berggruen Gallery, Richard Diebenkorn: Works on Paper, 1970–1983, May–June 1983.
Further details
This work will be included in the forthcoming Richard Diebenkorn catalogue raisonné as no. 4325.

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Jennifer Yum
Jennifer Yum

Lot Essay

In 1966 Richard Diebenkorn moved from Berkeley in Northern California to Santa Monica, in the southern part of the state, near Los Angeles, to accept a teaching position at UCLA. He acquired a studio in a pleasant residential section of Santa Monica known as Ocean Park, not far from the beach. It was here that he began a series of paintings and works on paper that came to be referred to as the Ocean Park series. And, most importantly, it was here that Diebenkorn best articulated—in paint, charcoal, graphite, and crayon; on canvas and on paper—an abstract language of great beauty and inventiveness that he would explore and refine during his stay in Santa Monica and beyond, after returning once again to Northern California.

The Santa Monica period encompassed the third and final phase of his artistic career, which saw a decisive return to abstraction after an initial early career phase working in the abstract medium, and a middle, figurative, phase. Diebenkorn is one of the most well known and most beloved of post-war American painters. His work is closely identified with the light and landscape of the California Bay Area and with Santa Monica (as the Ocean Park series brilliantly displays), his paintings, prints, and works on paper intimately reflecting the colors of the places he lived, as well as expressing ideas evoked by his artistic influences, in particular Matisse and Cezanne. Extensively exhibited in the United States, his work is currently on view in a retrospective exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art in London, covering four decades of his production. In their review, the London Evening Standard wrote that the Royal Academy’s show was “unmissable,” and that “if you love painting, you can’t fail to adore this show.” (B. Luke, “Richard Diebenkorn, Royal Academy: Exhibition Review: Five Stars for Brilliant and Profoundly Individual Painter,” London Evening Standard, March 10, 2015).

The three outstanding works on paper presented here are part of the spectacular Ocean Park series, a series that comprises his best-known works and that represents his greatest achievement as an artist. These are abstract works, to be sure, but filled with allusions to things present in the real world (landscape, the human figure, architecture). In contrast with those of most artists, Diebenkorn’s works on paper are not preparatory studies for larger paintings, but rather independent, complete works in themselves, with their own integrity. In fact, the works on paper are considered so significant that in 1988 the Museum of Modern Art prepared a major exhibition and accompanying catalogue focusing exclusively on them. MoMA curator John Elderfield observed that, “the works of the Ocean Park series are not studies for the paintings. Neither are they ways of learning how to make paintings. ‘A way is just what I don’t want,’ Diebenkorn (said)…Each work on paper is a prolonged meditation on what drawing can accomplish at the threshold of painting.” (J. Elderfield, The Drawings of Richard Diebenkorn, New York, 1988, p. 51).

Two of the three works here, Untitled (1977) and Untitled (1978), have the essential look of the larger canvases in the Ocean Park series: washes of color set in a kind of loose, irregular grid structure, reminiscent of an architectural framework. The drawings are enlivened through the artist’s unique style of applying paint, crayon, pencil, or charcoal on paper, which created a rippling, textured surface, with much evidence of working and re-working. The handling of color and line conveys a sense of space and also a feeling for the shifting, living nature of the Southern California light that Diebenkorn was observing. “In the Ocean Park series, the sheer range not merely of color but of feeling evoked by color is extraordinary. But it is tonally controlled color. To look at the works on paper of the Ocean Park series…is to see that he rarely composes purely from color, from the sheer juxtaposition of hues…Color, usually, is tonally softened and scumbled. And when high-intensity colors appear, more often than not they cluster together in small, vivid segments at the sides of broad, open areas of unnamable hue, or they flash out from such areas…” (J. Elderfield, The Drawings of Richard Diebenkorn, New York, 1988, p. 46).

The third drawing, Untitled No. 17, is from a set of Diebenkorn drawings referred to as “clubs and spades” drawings. Starting in 1980 Diebenkorn explored forms that were inspired, at least in part, by his interest in heraldic imagery. In the intervening years since their creation, they have become some of the artist’s most highly prized works, and Untitled No. 17, with its club card-shaped motif dominating the central portion of the paper support, is a prime example. “ ‘I had always used these signs (clubs and spades) in my work almost from my beginnings,’ the artist observe(d), ‘but always peripherally, incidentally, and perhaps whimsically.’ He had been fascinated by their shapes since childhood, when he had painted them on homemade shields…But now (i.e., in 1980-81), Diebenkorn chose to deal with them ‘directly—as theme and variation,’ he said. ‘I discovered that these symbols had for me a much greater emotional charge than I realized.’…They mark a decisive break in the Ocean Park series.” (J. Elderfield, The Drawings of Richard Diebenkorn, New York, 1988, p. 58).

Casually observed, the Ocean Park works on paper may seem quite similar to the canvases from the same series. Observed with greater care, though, they reveal themselves to be distinctly different in effort and intention from the works on canvas. “(The works on paper) have a much greater range and carpentered surfaces than the works on canvas. Diebenkorn constructed these drawings over time, cumulatively building them from discrete lines and shapes. As he progressed, he effaced and overpainted earlier efforts—occasionally scrubbing them off or pasting them over with shaped paper—and recomposed a final order over the still visible constructions.” (R. Newlin. Richard Diebenkorn: Works on Paper. Houston, Texas, 1987. p. 11). In the drawings, all of the decisions that Diebenkorn made are visible on the surface of the work: all of the revisions, changes, new starts, interruptions, the history of the making of the work, in a way that is possible only when working on paper, not canvas. “Unlike canvas, the use of paper permitted (Diebenkorn) to expand and differentiate the very support itself…to admit elasticity, spontaneity, improvisation and discovery into his work; and to build up the surface in order to emphasize the drawing of a fabricated object.” (R. Newlin, Richard Diebenkorn: Works on Paper. Houston, Texas, 1987. p. 11).

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