Richard Diebenkorn's monumental Ocean Park series, begun in 1967 and extending nearly 20 years, represents the signature core of his oeuvre. In 1966 the artist moved to the Ocean Park section of Santa Monica, California, an area that takes its name from a local amusement park. The lilting effects of sunlight and ocean air as well as the open expanses of beach and nearby streets are evoked by Diebenkorn with infinite variety throughout a masterful array of paintings on canvas and paper. Ocean Park no. 44, from 1971, is a luminous example from this important series that broke stylistically from the artist's previous work, and the monumental, airy, geometric abstractions represent the second major shift in Diebenkorn's career, since they followed twelve years of boldly considered figuration. With the Ocean Park series, Diebenkorn sought to occupy the space between figuration and abstraction with lyrical ease. Unbeholden to artistic orthodoxy of any variety and seemingly unconcerned with art critics of any stripe, Diebenkorn left a legacy as a rugged individualist, an iconoclast, an alternative to the dominant stream of art in his time.
Diebenkorn's Window from 1967, which portrayed a sparse interior with a flat edge-to-edge composition, was his last representational image before embarking on the Ocean Park series. Simple but grand expanses of bright color dominate the canvas, and one can see the artist beginning to shift towards the heavily abstracted and geometric forms of the Ocean Park paintings. The strong verticals that frame the window and the diagonals of the chair hint at the innate structure and reductive, non-objective abstractions exemplified by Ocean Park no. 44. As Robert T. Buck notes, the Ocean Park paintings "[combine] a new interpretation of structural, formalistic concern with expressionistic and lyrical tendencies." (Robert T. Buck in Exh. Cat., Buffalo, Albright Knox Art Gallery (and traveling), Richard Diebenkorn, Paintings and Drawings, 1943 – 1976, 1976, p. 42). Diebenkorn fused enclosed form and spontaneity in linear composition with a strong sense of structure, light, color and space.
Diebenkorn considered himself a traditionalist and welcomed identification as a landscape painter. His work is truly a synthesis of a lifetime of observation, both of his own surroundings and of the art historical past. He explored the works of the great colorists Henri Matisse and Pierre Bonnard and was inspired by the evolution of the career of Piet Mondrian. Comparisons can be drawn between the present work and Matisse's A Glimpse of Notre Dame in the Late Afternoon, of 1914 in elements of structure, surface treatment and atmosphere. In Matisse's work, the outlines of Notre Dame and the bridge over the Seine are no longer clearly delineated as they fade into the background through a series of free brush strokes. Like Mondrian, Diebenkorn began his career with traditional landscapes before evolving into heavily abstracted grids and structures. According to Gerald Nordland, "[Diebenkorn] is not falsely modest but genuinely a seeker after learning in the practice of painting. [Diebenkorn] has written, 'If what a person makes is completely and profoundly right according to his lights then his work contains the whole man. A work which falls short of this content is only a passing value and lends itself to arbitrariness and fragmentation.' Diebenkorn seeks the wholeness and completeness of a unitary visual expression and he cannot be satisfied with partial, fashionable or convenient solutions." (Gerald Nordland in Exh. Cat., Buffalo, Albright Knox Art Gallery (and traveling), Richard Diebenkorn, Paintings and Drawings, 1943 – 1976, 1976, p. 41).
It is Diebenkorn's restless attention to material process which undergirds the effect of the Ocean Park canvases, and No. 44, in particular. Like the planes and facets of color laid thinly and delicately, one on top of the other, colored lines of paint are drawn and redrawn, nearly covered and then retraced. Washes of pinks, peaches, and yellows are defined by blue and red lines, banding and marking off geometric fields to emphasize verticality. Diebenkorn shifted them as he constructed the composition, leaving ghost marks, to make the canvas a trace record of old ideas and hints of what might have been; and yet the final solution, the topmost layer, lays claim to a restful, seemingly inevitable solution. Diebenkorn took pains to show this painting as a process of alternating decisiveness and recanting, all the while advanced through the tactile materiality of paint on canvas. Jane Livingston describes Diebenkorn's process in the series: "One of the most important hallmarks of the Ocean Park painting, evident from the very beginning, is that each one creates its own, self-contained chromatic universe, and each functions within that universe in a structurally self-sufficient way. The sheer complexity is unrivaled in the abstract painting of the era. It might well be argued that, in this sense, Mark Rothko takes a distant second place to Richard Diebenkorn." (New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, The Art of Richard Diebenkorn, 1997, p. 65)
Oil on canvas
New York, Marlborough Gallery, Ocean Park Series: Recent Work, 1971, cat. no. 17, p. 33, illustrated
San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Art, Paintings from the Ocean Park Series, October 1972 - January 1973, cat. no. 10, illustrated
Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Cincinnati, Cincinnati Art Museum; Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Oakland, The Oakland Museum, Richard Diebenkorn, Paintings and Drawings, 1943 – 1976, November 1976 – November 1977, cat. no. 73, p. 81, illustrated
San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Resources/Response/Reservoir - Richard Diebenkorn: Paintings 1948 - 1983, May - July 1983, cat. no. 24
100 x 81 in. 254 x 205.7 cm.
John Elderfield, "Diebenkorn at Ocean Park," Art International, vol. 15, February 20, 1972, p. 20
Jerrold Lanes, "Richard Diebenkorn: Cloudy Skies over Ocean Park," Artforum, vol. 10, no. 6, February 1972, p. 63, illustrated
Harris Rosenstein, "Reviews and Previews; Richard Diebenkorn," ArtNews, vol. 70, no. 6, December 1971, p. 14
Richard Diebenkorn: Paintings and Drawings, 1943 - 1980, New York, 1989, pl. 73, illustrated
Twenty-five Years of David Tunkl Fine Art, Los Angeles, 2001, illustrated in color
Marlborough Gallery, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Hunter Land, San Francisco (acquired from the above in October 1971)
Ace Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in May 1996