This work will be included in the forthcoming Richard Diebenkorn catalogue raisonné of paintings and drawings being prepared by the Estate of Richard Diebenkorn.
Marin Landscape, 1962 is a rare and important painting from the artist's work of the early 1960s. Evidence of his passion for landscape, as well as Matisse, it is one of the few major early Diebenkorns that remain in a private collection.
Marin Landscape's use of triangular shapes and diagonals are used organize a myriad number of details into a unified whole. Indeed, one theme running throughout Diebenkorn's work, figurative and abstract, is an underlying geometry. Inspired by West Coast landscape, as opposed to the flat grid of New York, Marin Landscape's sweeping Baroque diagonals lead the eye from the edges into the heart of the painting.
Diebenkorn's career simultaneously investigated figuration and abstraction with subject being the immediate world which surrounded him. His earliest works from the early 1940's have an American-scene Hopperesque quality--lonely paintings of deserted city streets and rural structures. In the mid-1940's, he was exposed to contemporary avant-garde painting movements through reproductions of the work of artists such as Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell and William Baziotes in publications such as The Partisan Review. He felt a particular affinity to the work of de Kooning. Diebenkorn quickly absorbed the evocative quality of their abstracted paintings that straddled representation. This helped trigger a decade of abstract and abstracted works, from 1946-1955. Diebenkorn produced a number of noteworthy transitional paintings at this time, including the Albuquerque, Sausalito and Berkeley series, all named after the places in which they were painted.
In 1951, Diebenkorn flew to San Francisco from Albuquerque, taking the route over the desert. In a small propeller-powered plane, flying at low altitude, Diebenkorn was struck by the landscape's variety and richness and was inspired to treat space and composition differently--"The aerial view showed me a rich variety of ways of treating a flat plane--like flattened mud or paint. Forms operating in shallow depth reveal a huge range of possibilities available to the painter" (as quoted in G. Nordand, Richard Diebenkorn, New York, 1987, p.43).
In 1955, Diebenkorn questioned his abstract work and began to "mistrust my desire to explode the picture and super-charge it in some way...I think what is more important is a feeling of strength in reserve--tension beneath the calm" (G. Nordand, Richard Diebenkorn, New York, 1987, p. 85). His mentor and friend David Park and Elmer Bischoff--two colleagues at the California School of Fine Art since 1946-47--were two extraordinary figurative painters that influenced Diebenkorn into shifting his style. Indeed, Diebenkorn would regularly sketch live models with Park and Bischoff while painting abstractions, a practice that he continued throughout the 1960s.
Inspired by the new challenges of representation, Diebenkorn flourished, creating some of the most celebrated paintings of his career. Marin Landscape dates from this period and is a compositional tour-de-force, whose structures points the way to his Ocean Park series which he would realize six years later.
These works were his first mature works that were truly his own and not overly derivative of other artists--"In the past five years the artist has become increasingly independent of the self-discoveries of abstract expressionism...Diebenkorn has transcended the various influences which to some extent survived in the early work and has created a new art which has grown entirely out of his own life experience" (G. Nordland, Richard Diebenkorn, Washington, 1964, p. 18).
Its daring vantage point, looking down a valley bordered with low lying houses, opening up to a lush expanse of blue water, is an evocative and surprisingly accurate depiction of Marin County. Incorporating the lessons learned from his abstractions, Marin Landscape has a powerful all-over quality, with each area being treated with equal care. The painted surface is a grid-like structure and each "section" is a loose geometric shape. Within the isocolese triangle at the upper left and in the houses along the right edge, Diebenkorn has evoked the shimmering light in beautifully nuanced passages of crystalline color.
Visually, the painting is dominated by the hillside, painted in fleshy tones at the bottom and its counterpoint, the lush blue water at the top. Within those two dominating forms and throughout most of the composition, the artist has worked over the surface with intense deliberation. Diebenkorn created a richly nuanced surface by allowing areas of paint to show through. This use of pentimenti (what lies underneath) comes directly from Matisse, the artist's greatest influence.
Marin Landscape's quality was recognized shortly after it was painted and it was chosen to represent the artist in the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago "annual" exhibition in 1964.
In Diebenkorn's paintings, "reverie and geometry are tied together in evocation of mood" as Gerald Nordland writes. "It is clear that the artist works on at least two levels: constructing a picture in which shapes (colors and spaces) form a set of unique relationships, independent subject matter, while at the same time capturing and preserving the physical and emotional overtones aroused in him by visual experience" (G. Nordland, "The Figurative Works of Richard Diebenkorn", Richard Diebenkorn Paintings and Drawings, 1943-1976, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, 1976, p. 30).
Diebenkorn, Berkeley, 1954, Private collection Courtesy the Estate of Richard Diebenkorn
Diebenkorn, Figure on a Porch, 1959, Oakland Museum of California Courtesy the Estate of Richard Diebenkorn
Henri Matisse, La baie de Nice, 1918 Private collection