Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)
Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)


Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)
signed with the artist's initials and dated 'RD 84' (lower left)
acrylic, crayon and pasted paper on paper
25 x 38 in. (63.5 x 96.5 cm.)
Executed in 1984.
M. Knoedler and Co., New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1985
R. Newlin, ed., Richard Diebenkorn Works on Paper, Houston, 1987, pp. 234-235 (illustrated in color).
J. Livingston and A. Liguori, eds., Richard Diebenkorn: The Catalogue Raisonné, Volume Four: Catalogue Entries 3762-5197, New Haven, 2016, pp. 353 and 433, no. 4574 (illustrated in color and studio view illustrated in color).
New York, M. Knoedler and Co., Richard Diebenkorn, May 1984, p. 15, no. 31 (illustrated in color and titled Untitled #20).
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; Washington, D.C., Phillips Collection; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Richard Diebenkorn, January 1998-January 1999, p. 238, no. 193 (illustrated in color).


Infused with a soft light that permeates an interlocking system of diaphanous planes of luminous color, Richard Diebenkorn’s Untitled is a carefully calibrated symphony of abstract color. Painted in 1984, this work corresponds to Diebenkorn’s last series of Ocean Park paintings that would cease one year later, making it the masterful culmination of a nearly twenty year exploration. Slender horizontal bands of tinted gray are warmed by neighboring areas of rose, soft blush, and lavender, which in turn are situated upon a wide plane of ethereal blue. Demarcated by bold outlines in opposing primary colors, such as deep red and dark blue, the inner drama of the piece revolves around the central element—a delicate lemon yellow that evokes the sunlit atmosphere of Southern California. In 1982, Time critic Robert Hughes remarked, “There is a kind of light on Diebenkorn’s stretch of coastline—mild, high and ineffably clear, descending like a benediction on the ticky-tack slopes just before the fleeting sunset drops over Malibu—which is all but unique in North America, and Diebenkorn’s paintings always appear to be done in terms of it. It is part of their signature, whether they suggest actual landscape or not (R. Hughes, “Art: A Geometry Bathed in Light,” Time, Monday, Jan. 25, 1982, p. 46).

Diebenkorn embarked upon his most cherished and beloved series in 1967 when he moved into a small studio in the working-class neighborhood of Santa Monica known as Ocean Park. For the next eighteen years, he perfected and refined the particular blend of abstract geometry and soft, glowing light that has become the hallmark of this eponymous series. In Untitled, Diebenkorn maintains the same exacting sense of compositional unity and meticulous application of paint that inform his Ocean Park paintings of that era. The works on paper of the mid- 1980s typically maintain a horizontal format consisting of rectilinear planes of soft, neutral colors, which are often bifurcated by strong diagonals, as is the case of the present example. Diebenkorn deliberately leaves behind the vestige of his working method in the brushy, scumbled areas of carefully-applied paint, while also applying paper collage as an added pictorial element.

The geometry of Diebenkorn’s composition owes much to the influence of one of the artist’s great heroes, Henri Matisse. In 1964, Diebenkorn travelled to Paris and then onto the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) on a trip organized by the U.S. State Department. It was during this trip that he came into contact with Matisse’s work that he had otherwise seen in art books. Diebenkorn later recalled, “…it was just a great trip, it just changed my head in—in a lot of ways I think…. The representational thing, the figure thing, was kind of running its course. It was getting tougher and tougher, and about the time of the trip… things really started to flatten out” (R. Diebenkorn, quoted by K. Rothkopf, “Richard Diebenkorn and Matisse, from Russia to Ocean Park,” in J. Bishop and K. Rothkopf, Matisse/Diebenkorn, exh. cat., Baltimore Museum of Art, Munich, 2016. Pp. 120-121). The radical abstraction of Untitled has clear parallels with such Matisse’s View of Notre Dame, 1914 (Museum of Modern Art, New York), a work which Diebenkorn saw in person at the 1966 Matisse retrospective at the UCLA Art Gallery in Los Angeles.

Diebenkorn painted Untitled at a seminal moment in his career. The year 1984 witnessed a burst of creativity in which Diebenkorn returned to painting after a roughly three-year hiatus. He returned to Ocean Park to create “a series of several dazzling horizontal works on paper” as well as the final paintings of the series, which would reach their ultimate crescendo just one year later. As curator Sarah Bancroft writes, “The drawings and collages Diebenkorn produced during the Ocean Park period run in parallel to his painting pursuits… These intimate works are titled and dated as part of the overall series and share all the concerns of the larger paintings… Made alongside the paintings, they were pinned onto his studio walls and frequently served as a form of productive respite when he was struggling to resolve a larger painting. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the drawings and collages are works of art in their own right, and were not used as studies for larger works. They range from bare-bones black-and-white drawings to saturated works ablaze with color” (S. Bancroft, “Richard Diebenkorn: A Riotous Calm,” Richard Diebenkorn, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2015, p. 35).

Drawing has remained a central interest throughout Diebenkorn’s legendary career. Indeed, works on paper imposed certain formal parameters that the artist particularly enjoyed. He recalled: “My drawings often begin as sketchy explorations of ideas which then hook me into further and then complete development. This activity... is strongly related to my larger oil on canvas pieces and is a kind of tryout or rehearsal of general possibilities. It ceases to be this, however, at the point of becoming an independent work… Paper… [lends] itself to the different scale of the small size. It is almost as though if I can call my work a large drawing instead of a small canvas, it becomes possible” (R. Diebenkorn, quoted in T. B. Wride, “Exploration and Perception: The Dialogue Between Drawing and Painting in the Work of Richard Diebenkorn,” in Richard Diebenkorn: Works on Paper from the Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson Collection, exh. cat., Fisher Museum of Art, University of Southern California, 1993, p. 55).

Since its inception, Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series has delighted critics and viewers alike, making it his most beloved body of work. His seemingly effortless integration of sensuous color with a luminous inner glow is indelibly linked to the environment in which it was created, “Each day when Diebenkorn drives from his home to his studio down the coast, he follows the Pacific Coast Highway in West Los Angeles along the wide stretch of Santa Monica beachfront below the earthen cliffs. The mellow sparkle and soft golden richness of tone bestowed upon this landscape by the California sun are unique” (R. T. Buck Jr., in Richard Diebenkorn: Paintings and Drawings, 1943-1980, New York, 1980, p. 47). Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of Ocean Park without conjuring up the warmth and special atmosphere of Southern California. It is this particular blend of carefully calibrated abstraction imbued with an atmospheric sense of place that continues to place Ocean Park among the most cherished series in the history of modern art.

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