Richard Diebenkorn
Sugar Lift Spade 1982

Richard Diebenkorn was a well-known 20th century American painter. His early work is associated with Abstract Expressionism. In the early 1950's, Diebenkorn adopted abstract expressionism as his vehicle for self-expression, influenced at first by Clyfford Still, Arshile Gorky, Hassel Smith and Willem de Kooning. He became a leading abstract expressionist on the West coast. 

In late 1955, Diebenkorn suddenly launched upon a path that veered dramatically from his extended early abstract period. He would become an important figurative painter, in a style that bridged Henri Matisse with Abstract Expressionism. Diebenkorn, and others participated in a renaissance of figurative painting, dubbed the Bay Area Figurative Movement.

In 1967, Diebenkorn returned to abstraction, this time in a distinctly personal, geometric style that clearly departed from his early Abstract Expressionist period. In doing so, he definitively ended his figurative approach, to invent a unique abstract language.

Diebenkorn visited and was greatly impacted by a retrospective exhibition of Arshile Gorky at the San Francisco Museum of Art. This and an epiphanic experience viewing the landscape from the perspective of a rather low-flying plane, shaped his own work in the ensuing months. He combined landscape influence, aerial perspective, and a private, calligraphic language, into an artistic style that flowered in myriad directions, and whose ideas ramified in virtually all of his work in subsequent periods. 

The "Ocean Park" series, begun in 1967 and developed for over twenty-five years, became his most famous work and resulted in more than 140 paintings. Based on the aerial landscape and perhaps the view from the window of his studio, these large-scale abstract compositions are named after a community in Santa Monica, California, where he had his studio. The Ocean Park series bridges his earlier abstract expressionist works with Color Field painting.

In 1980 and 1981, Diebenkorn temporarily changed direction, producing a rather eccentric group of works on paper known as the “Clubs And Spades” drawings. When these were shown at Knoedler, the reaction was somewhat perplexed; with time, however, these images have become some of the most highly prized of his works. They were, at least in part, inspired by the artist’s lifelong interest in heraldic imagery, and their explorations of form would reappear in modified form at the very end of his life.