When Richard Diebenkorn died at the age of seventy-one in 1993, Michael Kimmelman, the chief art critic for the New York Times, wrote that he was “one of the premier American painters of the postwar era, whose deeply lyrical abstractions evoked the shimmering light and wide-open spaces of California, where he spent virtually his entire life.” Adam Gopnik, in the New Yorker, quoted Kimmelman and countered that “if ‘lyrical’ means anything more precise than just ‘nice,’ Diebenkorn was in fact one of the least lyrical painters who have ever lived. There is nothing singing or unimpeded in his best paintings. His Ocean Park landscapes are a daily journal of second thoughts, half-spoken sentences, and reproachful self-corrections … Diebenkorn’s art is never just pretty.”
Diebenkorn was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1922 and grew up in San Francisco. He attended Stanford University for two years, then in 1943 enlisted in the U.S. Marines. After getting out of the service late in 1945, Diebenkorn headed for New York City. Short of funds after a few months, he moved to Woodstock, New York. He returned to the Bay Area in 1947 to live in Sausalito and teach at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). In 1950, he went to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to get a graduate degree on the GI Bill, then, in 1952, moved to Urbana, Illinois, where he briefly taught. People familiar with Diebenkorn’s work are also familiar with the places where he lived, as he titled his paintings after the locations where he did them.
In the fall of 1953, Diebenkorn returned to the San Francisco Bay Area and settled in Berkeley, where he remained until 1966, when he accepted a faculty position at the University of California at Los Angeles. He lived in Los Angeles, painting his Ocean Park series, until 1988, when he returned to the San Francisco Bay Area to live in Healdsburg. Diebenkorn is influential both as a painter and as a printmaker. He began making prints at Crown Point Press in 1962 and returned regularly to the press until his death. He also made a number of lithographs, most of them at Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles.
Diebenkorn’s first one-person museum exhibition was at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco in 1948. In 1976, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, organized a retrospective that traveled to the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and other institutions, and in 1978 Diebenkorn represented the United States in the Venice Biennale. The Museum of Modern Art in New York presented a retrospective of his drawings in 1988, and in 1997 the Whitney Museum mounted a major painting retrospective that traveled to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. The Royal Academy of Arts, London, presented a solo exhibition by the artist in 2015, and in 2016 the SFMOMA and the Baltimore Museum of Art co-curated Matisse/Diebenkorn, which explored the inspiration Diebenkorn found in the work of French artist Henri Matisse. It opened in Baltimore in October 2016 and in San Francisco in March 2017. His work is in the collections of the above museums and many others. The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation released a four-volume catalog raisonné on the artist’s unique works in 2016. The estate of Richard Diebenkorn is represented by Van Doren Waxter, New York.
-Kathan Brown, Crown Point Press
"Green" by Richard Diebenkorn: The Making of a Print, Crown Point Press, 1986 (14 minutes)
Watch this 15-minute video of Richard Diebenkorn in the Crown Point studios making the large seminal etching, "Green."
Richard Diebenkorn Makes an Etching at Crown Point Press, 1986 (7 minutes)
Artist Richard Diebenkorn makes an etching at Crown Point Press in San Francisco, 1986.
Richard Diebenkorn: Two Weeks in January, 1986 (34 minutes)
Watch Richard Diebenkorn at work on the large aquatint, Green; Red-Yellow-Blue; and an unfinished print. In this video, shot by Kathan Brown, Diebenkorn works through the process of creating an etching with printer Marcia Bartholme.