Artist of the Month: Diebenkorn

William O'Connor

After WWII in America abstract expressionism ruled the art world.  Rothko, Newman, Hoffman and of course Jackson Pollock, who was on the cover of Life Magazine in 1949, being called "The greatest artist in America."  Undoubtedly these artists helped to transform the art world, and along with mid century modern architects, musicians and designers, the aesthetic of the post war world dramatically changed.  Figurative and representational art had not only become unfashionable, it was taboo.

Artists who bucked this trend often faced ridicule and obscurity from the art establishment.  O'Keefe, Freud, Neel, A. Wyeth, Khalo, etc, all had to wait decades and the advent of the post modernist movement for their work to be noticed.  One of the most influential of these artists was Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)

Diebenkorn had returned from WWII and begun his career in NYC embracing the new abstract expressionism.  Traveling and teaching he eventually settled down in California in the mid sixties and began to work figuratively. In 1967 he began his famous Ocean Park landscape series which he would work on for almost twenty years and produce more than one hundred paintings.

Diebenkorn's landscapes are a beautiful bridge between abstract field paintings and traditional representational art.   Deeply inspired by artists like Matisse he has simplified the environment focusing on the forms of bright sunlit California color.  Like looking out a window he breaks the space with architectural elements, swimming pools, roads, trees and even figures, into harmonious compositions.

Today Diebenkorn's paintings grace the collections of some of the most prestigious museums and fetch millions at auction.  I still often look to Diebenkorn to better understand composition, dividing the canvas into simple forms and colors.  I highly recommend any student or artist interested in composition to take look at Diebenkorn's work.

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