Shifts of Emphasis

Posted by on Apr 26, 2018 in Blog, Inspiration | No Comments

My paintings changed this year and the repercussions of that forced me to look at this strange phenomenon – change. My own experience of it was sudden, as if I’d been picked up and dropped into it. That’s not really true, though, as there had been signs last year but at the time I didn’t suspect what was coming. Anyway, at first it looked like a good blog subject but the trouble is, by going deeper into it, it’s revealed itself to be an enormous subject. Vast. Philosophical. Deep. Mysterious. But I’m only writing a short blog!  Can it work?

Well, being a painter I decided to show an aspect of change that definitely, visibly, happened to one of the great 20th century painters, Richard Diebenkorn. Even with such a few reproductions you can see change (which is often an un-self-revealing thing) actually in action. You might even question the whole issue of change, as I have.


Richard Diebenkorn (1922 –  1993)

1. His early work (from 1945-1955) was Abstract Expressionism and it is still underrated.

Richard Diebenkorn

Untitled (Albuquerque). 1957. 57 x 61in

Richard Diebenkorn

Untitled 1952. Gouache and ink drawing. 12.5 x 16.5 in










Richard Diebenkorn

Urbana No.5. (Beach town). 1953. 68x53in

Richard Diebenkorn

Berkeley No.54 1955. 61x58in











Later he said of his move away from Abstract Expressionism:

“I can remember when I stopped abstract painting and started figure painting it was as though a kind of constraint came that was welcomed, because I had felt in the last of the abstracts around ’55 it was almost as though I could do too much, too easily.”


2. The next period of Figurative/Representational work (1955-1967) was brilliant too. You’ll notice how he brought all the skills he’d developed in AbEx with him!

You can see in these four paintings how he has command over space.

Richard Diebenkorn

View from the porch. 1959. 70x66in

Richard Diebenkorn

Interior with view of buildings. 1962. 84×67 in. This was in the RA show and it drew the crowds.










Richard Diebenkorn

Ingleside 1963. 81×69 in.

Richard Diebenkorn

Seated Woman 1967. 80×90 in. Masterly use of space and colour. The last figurative work he painted











3. Lastly in 1967 he made his most radical move to what he called the Ocean Park series.

“The subtlety of the Ocean Park works, with their evocation of light, their delicacy of form, removes them from any direct comparison with figurative drawing.  This seems to confirm the Ocean Park paintings as works of individual  imagination… expressed in a rich, painterly vocabulary.”  (From the RA 2015 catalogue)

Most of these are big (93×82 ins for instance) and it’s worth remembering this so you can imagine standing in front of those huge expanses of beautifully  brushed colour.

Richard Diebenkorn

Ocean Park No. 16. 1968. 80×72 ins

Richard Diebenkorn

Ocean Park No.40. 1971. 92×81 ins.










Richard Diebenkorn

Ocean Park No. 79. 1975. 93x81ins

Richard Diebenkorn

Untitled No.12. 1989-91. 38×25 ins Crayon, graphite and acrylic on paper. He called these ‘drawings’ but regarded them as equal to his oils.













I’ll just end by quoting the critic/painter Mario Naves:  

“Deibenkorn’s Ocean Park paintings… are among the artistic triumphs of the latter half of the century… no one can doubt the power and aesthetic accomplishment of the ‘Californian artist ‘ at his best…  Diebenkorn was not given to stylistic caprice… his shifts of emphasis throughout his career were always well-reasoned responses to the aesthetic logic of his art.”

Perhaps this is the big clue to understanding change?

Diebenkorn died in 1993. The Royal Academy had a very good exhibition in 2015 showing all three periods of his work. The best book about him is by Gerald Nordland, plus the catalogue of the 2015 RA show which has drawings and stuff the book hadn’t – and of course there are some good films on YouTube.

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