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June 29: Diebenkorn: the Berkeley Years

Fans of Richard Diebenkorn (1922-93) will find many wonderful pieces in “Diebenkorn: the Berkeley Years” now showing at the DeYoung in San Francisco. Also many that are somewhat less than wonderful. Diebenkorn’s work typically exudes energy and a determination not to be pat. Generally that works well for him; at other times the focus on adventure begins to resemble indecision.

"reclining nude, pink stripe"  1962  []
“reclining nude, pink stripe” 1962 []

But very decisive while still redolent of adventure are such pieces as “reclining nude, pink stripe.” Here Diebenkorn pushes the odd pose and surrounding shapes into a fresh and engaging composition. The drawing is frank and strong, and the wet, loose paint handling is robust without getting arbitrary.

There is a similar sense of exploration in “large still life.” Again, you get the sense that he knew more or less where he was going when he began, but never assumed when he laid down a brushstroke that he knew exactly how it was going to read; the next stroke would then be both a pursuit of the original intention and a response to the previous one–a wonderful, ongoing, zig-zaggy dialogue from beginning to end.

"large still life" 1966 []
“large still life” 1966 []







And below, “studio wall,” perhaps the most conservative and understated piece in the show because it is the most straightforwardly illustrative. The drawings on the wall are rendered as drawings, with minimal painterly touches—drawing boards, wall, floor, all convincing. The chair is typical of Diebenkorn’s chairs, being modeled loosely and largely in negative by the surrounding shapes, but he must have loved those chairs. It’s a solid, convincing chair. It is this end of Diebenkorn’s work that I most admire—exemplified by the three pieces here—where intention and exploration don’t stray far from each other, and the the result is both rich and taut.

"studio wall"  1963  []
“studio wall” 1963 []