While I appreciate work by contemporary artists such as Thomas Nozkowski, Mary Heilmann and Sean Scully, for example, there are three artists from the past whose work continually offers me insight and inspiration. They are Richard Diebenkorn, Joan Mitchell and Philip Guston. That might sound like an odd trio and their inspiration is not notably present in my work, but I admire all of them - for different reasons. What they all share, for me, is their inventive paint application and surfaces and their use of color. I'm going to write a post about each one
Diebenkorn's career inspires me because it took a few twists, but through it all, he kept working - very hard - and exploring, thinking about what he was doing and where he was going with his work. He seems like such a quiet, thoughtful guy who really took his work seriously and sustained his career over a long period of time.
I have two large books of his works: "The Art of Richard Diebenkorn" by Jane Livingston and "Richard Diebenkorn" by Gerald Nordland. (I also have "Richard Diebenkorn in New Mexico" by Gerald Nordland, but that contains very little work not already in the earlier book.)
I was at first drawn to his early abstractions from New Mexico and Berkeley. (This one is Berkeley #8 from 1954.) Diebenkorn began getting his Masters at the University of New Mexico in 1950 and lived in Albuquerque for two and a half years. The abstract paintings that he made early on were very intricate - lots of color, shapes, lines and planes. They were mostly painted in warm colors - ochre, pink, orange, brown. When he returned to Berkeley in 1953, Diebenkorn continued to paint abstractions for a couple of years until beginning to work representationally with landscapes, figure studies and still lifes. His composition and paint handling in these works are very beautiful and they are made with an abstract sensibility.
In 1966 he began teaching at UCLA and moved to Santa Monica, to a neighborhood called Ocean Park, where he made the transition again to abstraction. Some of the landscapes he at first painted there were strikingly like the later abstract works in the Ocean Park Series. That series consists of 140 numbered paintings that he worked on for the next nearly 20 years. Richard Diebenkorn died in 1993.
Many works in the Ocean Park series are composed in blues and greens that critics thought represented the foggy atmosphere of the Bay Area. This one is Ocean Park #54 from 1972.
This is Ocean Park #92 of 1976.
And this is the final painting in the series, Ocean Park #140 of 1985.
It took me a while to appreciate the Ocean Park series. I thought at first that they were too plain, too monochromatic and had too few marks and shapes. After looking at them over time, I gradually came to see that they were very subtle and intricate in their own way. The drawn lines, crudely painted-over areas, pentimenti and smudges were perhaps the most important parts of the paintings. Also the very bottoms of many canvases contained areas that gave a whole context to the huge expanses above. These are works that I find soothing and stimulating at the same time because they represent a quietly exciting way of painting that bears evidence of the artist's mental processes. They are not paintings that just happened, although they do show experimentation and discovery. I look at them and think that making paintings does not come easily but the effort is very worth it.