Richard Diebenkorn's Ocean Park series ranks among the greatest achievements of American Art in the post-war era. Diebenkorn began to translate the American landscape into pictorial abstractions while he lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Urabana, Illinois during the early 1950s, and in Berkeley, California from 1953 to 1965. When he moved his studio to the Ocean Park district in Santa Monica in 1966, Diebenkorn used a wide variety of palettes and structural devices to reflect his environment, which now encompassed the diverse landscapes of the ocean, beach and desert areas around Los Angeles.
Diebenkorn's palette, as well as his reductive compositions, were greatly influenced by Henri Matisse, whom Diebenkorn admired as much for his treatment of space as for his use of saturated color. He was particularly influenced by Matisse's La porte-fentre, Collioure, 1914 (Private collection, Paris), which he was able to see in the 1966 Matisse retrospective at UCLA; it was as close to total abstraction as Matisse ever came. Matisse's use of black in the center of the canvas, as both a pure color and as the subject of the painting, was revolutionary.
Every so often during the Ocean Park years, Diebenkorn would change his palette from the lyrical colorations evocative of sun and sea to a very dark one of deep grays and blues. Like Matisse's Le porte-fentre, Collioure, Ocean Park No. 59 is a view out of a window at night. The window is divided by a strong vertical line (the sash of a window frame or a telephone pole outside), and by diagonals of light reflecting from telephone wires or the peaked roofs of houses nearby. The vertical line seems to lock the composition squarely to the flat picture plane, while the diagonals set up a visual tension, indicating recession into a deeper space. The varying shades of gray are used as Matisse used his black--that is, as hue, not as value or simply for shading. The pentimenti, the vigorous working and reworking of the surface, is typical of Diebenkorn's method of searching for an overall complexity and allowing the battleground of the canvas to retain the signs of the artist's struggle to reach resolution, where "the painter finds himself freed and his emotion exists complete and separate from him and his effort" (G. Nordland, Richard Diebenkorn, New York, 1987, p. 145).