Richard Diebenkorn – Royal Academy of Arts


Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)

I just caught this exhibition before it was due to close on the following Sunday – I had wanted to attend the OCA study visit but was away at the time. I am so glad I made the effort to visit under my own steam as this is, probably, an unlikely to be repeated opportunity.

I have to confess that I had not been aware of this artist until his exhibition was publicised through the OCA and on Facebook groups to which I belong. I also admit that I know little or virtually nothing about abstract art other than I like a piece of work or I don’t, it speaks to me or it doesn’t and if it does, it usually has the colour red in it. There, a total philistine! I remember many an occasion at the tea-table (we had tea in those days, not dinner!), with my mum and dad watching the news when some art work was causing a storm at the Tate Modern – prime example was the “pile of bricks”, or even a Picasso or two. Its fascinating what you absorb when you’re young from those around you. My mum was as proud as anything with my school art works, I remember catching her trotting round to my neighbour’s one afternoon after school, with a painting I’d done for my O Level course work to show it off to her. Both parents were very supportive of my endeavours, with dad taking me off to town and buying me all the materials I would need for my art lessons – a small fortune in those days. However, back to the tea-table where everyone said “Look at that! A five year old could do that!” – including me! So, there I was in front of quite a lot of abstract work at this exhibition and all these memories came tumbling over me – quite emotional! Is that what abstract art is about – making you feel not just see, or is that all art???

Anyway, my first thought was, I thought that there would be more – I had decided to go round quickly first and then go back to those works I particularly liked.  However, after discovering it was only three rooms, I went round again slowly looking at everything carefully, and then again. My second main thought? I wish there was more!

Richard Diebenkorn at the Royal Academy

Richard Diebenkorn at the Royal Academy

I have to admit, I am true to my roots, in that I particularly loved the representative work, the life drawings, the figures, they all had so much energy, I enjoyed the workings over and over. I thought the still life in interiors were great (maybe because that is where I’m up to in my course – the negative shapes that built the structure and the patterns that weren’t ignored but celebrated as an excuse for more colour).  I was drawn to the “Ashtray and Doors” 1962, such a simple, almost throw away subject but it was beautiful and had narrative (no smoking ban in those days!).

In my humble opinion, I came away thinking that Richard Diebenkorn was a master in composition and colour, my example would be “Cityscape #1” 1963.  It has pattern, light and shapes that are recognisable yet don’t have to be – it makes sense to me, the flattened perspective works and still somehow manages to represent distance.  The seemingly cross over work, abstract-representative-abstract, is accepted by my brain, I’m getting a few steps closer! Looking at those of the Ocean Park series that were displayed, I did struggle, I warm to curves rather than angles and straight lines. However, I was drawn to the Ocean Park #27 painting for some time – there was more to it than geometric shapes, I liked the under painting and reworked lines and shapes – I felt absorbed but am not sure why.

Works I returned to for second or third viewings:

  • All the monochromatic life and figure drawings, I could see the struggle and observation in every mark.
  • Cityscape #1
  • Ashtray and Doors
  • Interior with View of Buildings – a large work that took a little “looking at”, so I did, for what felt like at least 10 minutes!
  • Girl on a Terrace – mesmerising and a little uncomfortable in composition (not as in disturbing but as in making you work to see it).
  • I even went back to the Disintegrating Pig!!

Book Titles


Books I have read

I have to admit, I find it difficult to get into non fiction books – give me a good psychological thriller and I’ll read it all day, however, I have applied a concerted effort and am starting to win the battle. I will add to this meagre list with more enthusiasm from now on.

101 Things to Learn in Art School by Kit White (MIT Press 2011)
I picked this up in the Royal Academy shop, I think after the David Hockney, The Bigger Picture Exhibition.  This is a brilliant little book, one I can dip in and out of easily, in fact, it’s next to my bed so I can do just that.  This book encouraged me to join the OCA as it made me realise how little I knew and how much I had (and still have) to learn. A few little gems that have stuck in my brain “65 – A painting should be satisfying at a distance of both twelve inches and twelve feet”, “30 – For every hour of making, spend an hour of looking and thinking”, and “46 – Embrace the “happy accident””.  In fact, I am going to re-read it cover to cover as more and more of it is becoming relevant to now!

Drawing Now: Eight Propositions by Laura Hoptman (The Museum of Modern Art 2002)
This is on the essential reading list of Drawing 1, and this added to my block of reading it I think.  However, over the last couple of weeks, I have really got stuck into it.  I have to say the first three chapters were a little dry to me with a few sparks, having said that, once I got to the Drawing Happiness chapter I felt more in tune.  In fact I thoroughly enjoyed it and got really involved from then on.  I found the Mental Map and Metaphysics section peaked my interest regarding the personal voice aspect that we are to try to develop in ourselves.  Looking at self portraiture in a more abstract and personality influenced way helped me see how I could put myself into my work more.


John Singer Sargent – Painting Friends with an Essay by Barbara Dayer Gallati (National Portrait Gallery Publications Copyright 2015)
Admittedly, I bought this book as a cheaper substitute for the catalogue accompanying the John Singer Sargent – Portraits of Artists and Friends exhibition held at the National Portrait Gallery 2015. It is however, still very informative and does have a large number of the paintings displayed in the exhibition reproduced throughout.  The essay written by Barbara Dayer Gallati at the beginning of the book is informative and readable, succinctly describing Sargent’s life, influences, friends and supporters. I get the impression that, although always categorised as American, Sargent was truly multi-national, intelligent, a formidable linguist, well-educated and an opinionated man, not to mention extremely charming when he deemed necessary. I enjoyed the snippets of background that accompanied each reproduction of his paintings and the personalised accounts of his relationship with each portrait subject. One thing though, that really became clear with this book, is that to truly appreciate the skill, life and soul of Sargent’s paintings, they must be viewed in real life.