Richard Diebenkorn

Biography of Richard Diebenkorn

Considered one of the great American post-war painters, Richard Diebenkorn famously diverse career saw him switch from abstraction to figuration and then back again. Born in Oregon in 1922, his dense early abstract paintings have the atmosphere of Paul Cezanne’s great works and are distinctly European. Although loosely considered an Abstract Expressionist, he was unlike more high-profile artists like Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.  


Richard Diebenkorn went against the wishes of his father by deciding to become an artist, and after marrying early he enlisted in 1943 in the U.S. Marine Corps. When World War II was over he completed his studies at the California School of Fine Arts. Then, after moving to Albuquerque, his experiments with Abstract Expressionism really took off. This lasted around five years before he moved to Illinois and travelled across Europe.


Moving back to California and Santa Monica, Richard Diebenkorn rejected Abstract Expressionism for a return to figuration, and became a leading light of the Bay Area Figurative Movement. Perhaps more than any other painter at that time, he managed to form an intriguing connection between abstraction alongside his inclusion of figurative elements. Most famous of all are his Ocean Park Series of paintings produced between 1967—1988. Roughly consisting of 140 paintings, they are vividly colored, not truly landscapes or geometric abstractions, but works that were beautiful and uniquely his own.


Even when embracing abstraction Richard Diebenkorns works were tethered to the world outside, capturing his surroundings without attempting to faithfully represent them. With a career spanning more than four decades, his sumptuous color palettes and finely balanced compositions drew from the light and atmosphere of the places he lived and worked. He was instrumental in making California an art world destination, and helping to make Los Angeles one of America’s great art hubs.


In 1973 Richard Diebenkorn represented the U.S. at the Venice Biennale. In 1991 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. Works from Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park Series are now hitting the $10 million mark at auction. His work is in many major collections including at the Albertina in Vienna, Austria and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. MoMA in New York put on a show of his works on paper in 1989. In 2012, the exhibition, “Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series” traveled around America including the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. In 2015 a major exhibition of his work was on view at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. 

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