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


Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)
signed with the artist's initials and dated 'RD 72' (lower left)
gouache, charcoal and graphite on paper
25 7/8 x 19 ½ in. (65.7 x 50.2 cm)
Executed in 1972.
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner, 1984
R. Newlin, Richard Diebenkorn: Works on Paper, Houston, 1987, p. 45 (illustrated in color).
J. Livingston and A. Liguori, eds., Richard Diebenkorn: The Catalogue Raisonné, Volume Four: Catalogue Entries 3762-5197, New Haven and London, 2016, p. 143, no. 4096 (illustrated in color).
Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, The Private Eye: Selection Works from Collections of Friends of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, June-August 1989.
New York, Knoedler & Company, Richard Diebenkorn, Helen Frankenthaler, Adolph Gottlieb, Robert Motherwell: On Paper, June-July 1993, no. 20.
New York, Knoedler & Company, Seven from the Seventies, February-March 1995.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Modern Art Museum of Forth Worth, Washington D.C., Phillips Collection and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Richard Diebenkorn, October 1997-January 1999, p. 214, no. 163 (illustrated).


Executed during what many hail as his most inspired period, Richard Diebenkorn’s Untitled (1972) is a pristine example of the litany of drawings that comprise the Ocean Park suite. Despite his oeuvre of abstractions, Diebenkorn was sharply in tune with the human experience, charting man’s unprecedented progress over psychological terrain. As the most immediate record of an artist’s primi pensieri, or “first thoughts”, a drawing powerfully alludes to the intimacy between creator and creation. For Diebenkorn, the blank page presented a fluid space in which to grapple with his intricate interrogations of established compositional norms. Thus, infused with the sunlight striking his Santa Monica studio window and the artist’s long relationship with the pillars of the Paris avant-garde, Untitled testifies to a meandering yet precise mental process by which Diebenkorn arrived at his most poignant self.
In many ways, Untitled outlines the artist’s answer to his own question in 1964: “How can I explain to you my relationship to Matisse?” (R. Diebenkorn, quoted in S. A. Nash, “An American Voice with European Accents,” in Richard Diebenkorn, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, March-June 2015, p. 42). A lifelong professor and student, Diebenkorn was no stranger to Washington D.C.’s Phillips Collection, New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the plethora of art institutions scattered along the California coast. Within these halls, Diebenkorn encountered his greatest muse in Henri Matisse (1869-1954), whose Fauvist color, flattened interiors and famous, peripatetic line would motivate Diebenkorn to resolve lingering contradictions between composition and form. The present work evokes specifically Matisse’s Goldfish and Sculpture (1912) in its marriage of slender curves with stark geometry. While Diebenkorn’s salmon hues echo Matisse’s reclining figure, each work owes its pleasant symmetry to a reliance on the Renaissance masters’ golden ratio. Almost as evidence of his debate with the past, Diebenkorn intentionally imposed his measured grid over the faded, flowing curvature of Matisse’s decorative history. Often referred to as pentimenti, Italian for “sins” and thus markings of the artist’s mistakes, Diebenkorn’s background lines are less remnants of ill-formed ideas and more ideas in themselves, charting the treacherous course an artist must traverse through tradition to achieve innovation. “The goal is not to present perfection, superficial continuity or consistency, but the act of creation itself, the reification of an abstract goal into concrete form on canvas, with time and struggle as much the medium as paint and charcoal and canvas. In a sumptuous and subtle presentation that documents a storm of activity and diligence, the artist has achieved a riotous calm in these works; at once a visual caress and a chaos” (S. C. Bancroft, “Richard Diebenkorn: A Riotous Calm,” in Richard Diebenkorn, exh. cat., London, Royal Academy of Arts, March-June 2015, p. 37).
Unlike painting, drawing appealed to Diebenkorn for both its malleability and affordability. While oil on canvas allows only for a limited number of reworkings, drawing remains open to spontaneity and invites wonderful incident: “My reasons for doing ‘drawings’ (many of them are fully developed paintings) are roughly twofold. [My drawings] often begin as sketchy explorations of ideas, which then hook me into further and then complete development. This activity, up to the point where it becomes for me a serious work, is 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” (R. Diebenkorn, quoted in E. Devaney, “Richard Diebenkorn’s Drawings,” in Richard Diebenkorn, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, March-June 2015, p. 65). The artist himself affirms the Ocean Park drawings in their own right – for as much as it is a meditation on a larger concept, Untitled harbors a philosophy all its own.
Such philosophy builds from Diebenkorn’s itinerant adolescence, which took him from his boyhood Oregon home to Stanford University and finally into service with the United States military. From California, he went east, only to be reassigned as a cartographer in Hawaii – a fitting task for an incorrigible draughtsman. As he learned to sketch his surroundings, Diebenkorn also began to engage with them, coaxing more and more of the landscape into his early abstract explorations. It makes sense, then, that the bulk of Diebenkorn’s mature work resides in series named for the places where they were created – Albuquerque for its earthy reds and browns, Urbana for its Midwestern wishful beachscapes and Berkeley for its figurative innovation. In 1967, Diebenkorn and his family relocated to the sunny environs of Southern California, where the next 20 years gave rise to the Ocean Park series, a compilation of over 140 canvases and 450 drawings that investigate space and color through the raw mechanizations of the artist’s process. By lauding such struggle through a quotidian medium, as in Untitled, Diebenkorn elevated the practice and position of every artist – every human – in the midst of reconciling his personal history with that of his creative lineage.

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