Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ocean Park

Ocean Park No. 16, 1968

Ocean Park No. 29, 1970

Ocean Park No. 49, 1972
Ocean Park No. 54, 1972

Ocean Park No. 79, 1975

Ocean Park No. 83, 1975

Ocean Park No. 90, 1976

Ocean Park No. 115, 1979

Ocean Park No. 116, 1979

When I started selecting samples from the Ocean Park series of Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) the first one I chose was No. 90, painted in 1976. Because that was the year my daughter was born – and of course every year around the time of her birthday I think about the specific & monumental year when she was born.

During the first half of he 1960s Diebenkorn lived and taught and painted in Berkeley (the very town where my daughter would later be born, another coincidence!). However, his best work was done in Santa Monica after he settled there in 1967. That's when he began the famous Ocean Park series of rectilinear, light-filled abstracts. 

Ocean Park No. 125, 1980

The artist is heavily represented in Bay Area museums, where his admirers have always been numerous (in 1948 he was given the first show of his career at San Francisco's Palace of the Legion of Honor). His wide popularity means that I have had chances to see a relatively large number of his paintings in person – and not always with a very friendly eye. It used to seem to me that Diebenkorn found a romantic luminosity in Southern California (just as David Hockney did) that I found both inaccurate and unappealing. Chirpy and sanitized their visions seemed, held up next to the featureless smog pit that presented itself to my unvarnished eyes when I looked at the same landscape.

After all these years, I still feel dismissive of Hockney's naive sunshine, but no longer resent the questionable sources of Diebenkorn's inspiration. He has been dead for twenty years, and what matters now is that his paintings continue to get better as they outlive their creator. Every day in every way, they are improving – and soon will have left both their estimable and their delusional origins behind them altogether.

There are, in total, about 135 paintings in the Ocean Park series. Agreement seems to be general (among the tiny number of those who care) that the essential aesthetic trigger for this huge project (as opposed to the geographic trigger, already mentioned) was a single moment in 1966 when Diebenkorn saw two Matisse paintings (reproduced below) at an exhibition in Los Angeles. Both dated back to 1914 and neither had made the journey to the West Coast before. First, View of Notre Dame, and then French Windows at Collioure