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Richard Diebenkorn in California: Part 2 of 2

Tuesday Night Painting #19

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Richard Diebenkorn
Cityscape #1, 1963, oil on canvas

Hello painters, 

This is part two of our look at the work of Richard Diebenkorn. You can find the first part by clicking on this link. Last week we talked a lot about the artist's Ocean Park series of abstractions, and about how the artist kept a tight control on his color palette and on his compositions. I encouraged you to come up with your own limited color palettes based on your neighborhoods.

This week we'll talk a little bit about Diebenkorn's representational work in comparison with some other artists. Part of my inspiration for covering Diebenkorn comes from this article by former Boston Globe art critic Sebastian Smee.

Smee writes that there "may be no more beautiful painting of California" than Cityscape #1, which is quite high praise. The article goes on to discuss Diebenkorn's artistic lineage, something that I have encouraged you to do with your own work.

I want you to continue to think about your favorite influences and make a list for yourself. The other option is to wait 60-100 years for an art critic at a newspaper to do it for you. I'd recommend doing it now, to get ahead of the game.

Smee identifies Matisse as the "true north" for Diebenkorn's work. Both painters had an incredible sense for color and composition. They both also had a softness and a serenity to their paintings. The famous Matisse quote analogizing his art to a comfy armchair could be read in conjunction with Diebenkorn's paintings as well. 

In 2017, SF MoMA celebrated the link between the two with a major exhibition. Above you can see a painting of Notre Dame by Matisse on the left, and another Californian depiction by Diebenkorn on the right.

See another pairing below, again with Notre Dame by Matisse on the left and an abstracted Ocean Park painting by Diebenkorn on the right.
In this article by Elyn Zimmerman, you can read about how Diebenkorn had a large reproduction of the above Notre Dame painting pinned up in his studio next to a set of large windows that looked out onto the Pacific Ocean.

Zimmerman writes that "When I recall his studio, I remember thinking that he would see the poster and the atmospheric light of the ocean at the same time."

Diebenkorn took his favorite artistic inspiration and let it blend together with his other favorite source of inspiration. A perfect example of what can happen when you keep your artistic inspirations close at hand.

When talking about influences, I often think about previously featured artist Michael MacMahon when he talks about the act of painting as building upon a rich artistic legacy. It's not worth the mental anguish worrying about copying someone, or worrying about being original. Rather, you're part of the grand project of painting, carrying it one step forward.
Pictured above: Wayne Thiebaud, Ripley Ridge, 1977. Oil on canvas, 48 x 36 in

But to get back to Smee's article: if you had to choose a winner for "Most Beautiful Painting of California," like Smee does with Cityscape #1, you would do well by picking almost any Diebenkorn painting.

And even though I'm on the record as a big time Diebenkorn fan (Dieb Dude #1), I want to segue into showing you some paintings that would win the Most Beautiful prize if I were judging.

The above painting and the next several paintings you'll see are by Wayne Thiebaud, a painter most widely known for his paintings of NYC delicatessens and bakeries. Thiebaud was working at the same time as many of the Pop artists and was loosely grouped into that genre. The ice creams and cakes are all well and good, but Thiebaud's landscapes are out of this world. And even though they aren't as abstract as Diebenkorn's, they're still getting a feature in this letter.
In the same way that Diebenkorn's paintings went through various developments, from abstraction to figuration to landscape and back to abstraction, each step of the way he was building on what came before. Thiebaud's career worked in the same way. 

Thiebaud and Diebenkorn became quite close over the course of their careers. I think you will be able to see the connections between the paintings by these two friends. In 2018, a NYC gallery exhibited both artists together, a review of which you can read about here
There are many reasons to love these paintings. There's the incredible slanting shadows, the perplexing and pleasing conflation of different perspectives. Although these pieces were painted in San Francisco, they remind me heavily of my hometown of Pittsburgh: both cities have improbably been constructed on massively steep hillsides. You can read a very long, in-depth article about Thiebaud's Californian inspiration by clicking here.

If you enjoy these paintings, let me know. If you prefer Diebenkorn's instead, let me know about that too! This letter has been a bit more random and discursive than usual (I think?) but I hope you can track the connections.

Like the Diebenkorn work from the week before, these paintings by Thiebaud are also never far from my mind. It's a little bit like I'm working on my own artistic family tree and letting you all know about it whether you want to or not.
I'll leave you with a piece of insight from Thiebaud about how he created the above paintings. To make create these pieces, Thiebaud would make "conscious decisions to include or exclude details, put in personal experiences and perceptual nuances to give the paintings more of a multi-dimension" type of feeling. If he's doing that to create recognizable landscapes, then you can bet that goes double or triple for making abstract works.

You're not making photographic reproductions, so the decisions you make about what to include or exclude, and what kind of your own personal interpretation you place onto your canvas makes it extra special.
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Links
 
One:
A silly history of comedy and art: This was a topic of serious interest to me in grad school, but I've reformed myself into a serious abstract painter with important thoughts. But I do love Vic Reeves, pictured above, and his truly absurd comedic stylings. 

Two:
If you're able to get to the Somerset House in London, there is a fantastic looking show about mushrooms that I would absolutely love to see. Many big names are included in this exhibition and I really enjoy the lighthearted collages on the main page.
 
And now, here is your weekly reminder that this newsletter is free but not cheap. 
 
Chip in a few $$
I've been spending more and more hours each week researching and writing about new artists for me and you to lovingly gaze at. So if you can chip in a few dollars, I would very much appreciate it. 
And so we reach the end of another Tuesday Night letter. This week there are many different choices for you. First there is the news that the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack has been released in full on Spotify. CB was a great anime with a very eclectic soundtrack. I've put a few below along with some other tunes. Hope you enjoy them:

Cowboy Bebop - Mushroom Hunting (YouTube link)
Cowboy Bebop - Yo Pumpkin Head (YouTube link)
Cowboy Bebop OST (Spotify playlist link)

Chloe Kae - Recluse
Orion Sun - Coffee for Dinner
Wax Doctor - Heat


See you next time!
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