“It was just that [in the 1960s and 1970s] artists who did feel nature was worth exploring were sidelined by the institutional and critical clout of purist abstraction.” Robert Hughes.
Richard Diebenkorn was born in Portland, Oregon but his family moved to San Francisco when he was two. He spent a good deal of his life in the Bay Area before moving to Santa Monica in 1963. He studied and taught at a number of schools including the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco from 1947 to 1950. Fellow teachers included Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still, and it was their influence that led him to abandon still-lifes and interiors and take up Abstract Expressionism.
With a strong emphasis on landscapes, Diebenkorn employed directional brushstrokes and expansive forms, using bright colours such as pinks, yellows and blues similar to the style of Willem de Kooning. By 1957 however, his work became more figurative, as he began a series of roughly rendered paintings, frequently depicting women observing landscapes from interiors. ‘Woman in Profile’ (1958) is a good example of this. As Diebenkorn moved between abstraction and figuration, elements from the likes of Matisse and Edward Hopper can easily be identified. Perhaps his best known work is his ‘Ocean Parks’ series begun in 1967. Abstract in essence these paintings nevertheless evoke the real-life landscapes of Santa Monica.
Employing the formality of Matisse particularly in his depictions of the relationship between interior and exterior as well as the faces deep in thought inspired by figures in Hopper’s work, Diebenkorn was nevertheless a truly instinctive and individual painter. He never quite received the adulation of his predecessors but his work remains on show in galleries around the world.