I saw the Richard Diebenkorn show at the Corcoran twice this summer, and the paintings are pretty damn good, although honestly I’m not sure how he could stick doggedly with the same theme for twenty years. Back in the day I suppose that was how painters established a following for their work, but I’m grateful that times have changed. As I walked through the galleries, especially when I encountered the small cigar box top paintings, I remembered how important Diebenkorn’s work had been to me in my early years. Memories of his layered process, color choices, paint handling, and particularly his use of line and perspective, now deeply internalized in my own work, came flooding back. If you take a trip down to DC, make time to watch the terrific film that was produced for an exhibition in the 70s. A time capsule of 70s fashion (those glasses! the hair!), this documentary features terrific interviews and footage of Diebenkorn in the studio, and (added bonus) everyone smokes on camera. Walking through the show, pay extra attention to the work on paper, because this is where most of Deibenkorn’s experimentation took place.
In late 1988, and continuing as a traveling exhibition
throughout 1989, Diebenkorn’s works on paper were organized
into a major show and book by the Museum of Modern Art’s
curator John Elderfield. This was a landmark event for the
artist and his public, including, as it did, the entire
range of his stylistic journey right through the late
In the spring of 1988, Richard and Phyllis Diebenkorn moved
from Santa Monica to Healdsburg, California, to a rural
home near the Russian River, overlooking vineyards and
scrub-oak hillsides. In his Healdsburg studio he worked in
mostly small scale, producing some of the most gem-like,
quirkily decorative, and perfectly
executed, works of his life. Though he experienced
serious health problems during much of his time in
Healdsburg, he was able to continue his restless
exploration of form and color and poetic metaphor.
Virtually all of the Healdsburg work was abstract.
However, in one of his last ambitious print series,
done in 1990, he represented variations on the theme
of a coat on a hanger. The late etchings, meant to illustrate
a luxury edition book of poems by W.B. Yeats published
by San Francisco’s Arion Press, constitute a kind of
In late 1992, the Diebenkorns were forced to take up
residence at their Berkeley apartment in order to be nearer
to medical treatment. They looked forward to returning to
Healdsburg, but were never able to do so. Richard
Diebenkorn died there on March 30, 1993.
Maybe someday we’ll get to see the less well-known late work produced in Healdsburg.
in Beacon, NY, back in 2008. I made a book about the experience, which
is still available here.
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