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Richard Diebenkorn Ocean Park Series retrospective

Richard Diebenkorn Ocean Park #79, 1975 Oil on canvas 93 x 81 in. (236.2 x 205.7 cm), detail
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and with funds contributed by private donors, 1977 ©The Estate of Richard Diebenkorn Image courtesy The Estate of Richard Diebenkorn

The year is 1965 and Richard Diebenkorn, a successful west coast abstract expressionist, has just had a retrospective show at the Pavilion Gallery in Newport Beach, CA. Shortly after the exhibition closes, the artist decides to move to Santa Monica. He soon sets up his studio in a neighborhood called Ocean Park. It is here where he will spend the next 20 years creating his most celebrated work. The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth currently showcases this body of work with their latest exhibit, Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series. The exhibition features approximately 75 paintings, prints, and drawings from the series in addition to newly discovered video footage about the artist. This is the most comprehensive showing of the Ocean Park Series to date, and many of the artworks have never been shown to the public including his collection of small oils painted on cigar box lids.

The exhibition is organized by the Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA and the Modern. Private collectors and numerous museums have loaned works for the exhibit including Dallas Museum of Art; Milwaukee Art Museum; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and Philadelphia Museum of Art.

“Drawn from a body of work produced more than two decades ago, Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series reveals anew the complexity and subtlety of Diebenkorn’s practice and the relevancy of his work to the continuing dialog with abstraction among contemporary artists. It is a rare and unique opportunity to bring to a broader audience such a well-known yet under-exhibited body of work, and it is my sincere hope that those who visit this exhibition will experience in some measure the riotous calm, joy, and contemplation that these works can offer. ”—Exhibition curator, Sarah C. Bancroft, Orange County Museum of Art.

Ocean Park views

The white walls within the Modern's upper gallery space are adorned with color--the quiet, sublime, engaging colors present in the artwork of Richard Diebenkorn. The artist only had to look outside his Ocean Park studio to view his chosen color palette. In the 1977 video about the artist, Diebenkorn states that he liked the Ocean Park area because of it's light and proximity to the ocean. Ocean Park #79, 1975, exemplifies the light observed in his neighborhood. It usually took a month for Diebenkorn to achieve the desired light, color, and geometric style in his paintings. His artistic process began with creating drawings that were always around his studio. He then applied layer upon layer of paint to the canvas which he described as too pristine. If mistakes were made, they were not hidden on the canvas, and continuity was maintained among all of the works in the series.

The influence in introductions

Richard Clifford Diebenkorn was born on April 22, 1922 in Portland, Oregon. Two years later he moved with his parents Dorothy and Richard to San Francisco, CA. As a young boy, Diebenkorn would visit his maternal grandmother in the summer. During these visits, his grandmother gave him his first introduction to art by showing him illustrations by Charles Russell, Frederick Remington, and other artists. When he returned to grammar school in the fall, he began drawing and painting in class. While attending Lowell High School, Diebenkorn didn't take art classes, but he continued to draw and paint at his home.

In 1940, the young artist attended Stanford University where he studied drawing and watercolor with Daniel Mendelowitz and painting with Victor Arnautoff. Diebenkorn studied at the University of California Berkeley and the California School of Fine Arts before receiving his undergraduate degree from Stanford University in 1949. He also received his Master of Arts from the University of New Mexico in 1951. The artist was not only an art student, but he was an art teacher. He held teaching positions at the California School of Fine Arts and the University of Illinois, Urbana before becoming Professor of Art at UCLA in 1966.

Today Richard Diebenkorn is considered the leading west coast abstract expressionist of the 1950s. He has had solo exhibitions at various galleries including M. Knoedler & Co., New York; Paul Kanton Gallery, Los Angeles; and Whitechapel Art Gallery, London. His work has also been shown in numerous museums including Whitney Museum of Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and Tate Museum, London.

Diebenkorn's Ocean Park Series has most often been shown in galleries and museums. He received critical acclaim for this body of work in addition to many honors and awards throughout his career including honorary doctorates from Occidental College in Los Angeles and the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. His awards include the Carol H. Beck Gold Medal, the Edward MacDowell Medal, and the National Medal of Arts. In 1978 the artist was chosen to represent the U.S. at the 38th Venice Biennial where he showed works from the Ocean Park Series. The National Academy of Design in New York made Diebenkorn a member in 1984, and the artist was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1985.

Richard Diebenkorn finished the first painting for the Ocean Park Series in 1969 and the last painting in 1985. For the series, he completed approximately 145 paintings and 500 works on paper including drawings, collages, and paintings on paper. After his work on the series concluded, the artist returned to figure painting before his death on March 30, 1993 in Berkeley, CA.

Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series is on view at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth through January 15, 2012. The exhibition will continue at the Orange County Museum of Art in Los Angeles February 26-May 27, 2012 and conclude at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. June 30-September 23, 2012. For more information visit

by Jeralan Minnick

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Source: Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series exhibition catalogue


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