Shades of blues, lavenders, whites, pinks, oranges, reds, greens, and yellows are just a few highlights of artist Richard Diebenkorn 1953-1966 years in Berkeley, CA currently on view at the de Young museum. Living in the San Francisco area, artist Richard Diebenkorn is part of its landscape like Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, protesting, hipsters, and the golden gate bridge. His art is admired, celebrated, investigated, mimicked, and copied by artists today.
According to the de Young museum’s website: “This exhibition is the first to focus specifically on this fertile period for the artist. His artistic evolution during what is now known as the ‘Berkeley period’ yielded many of his best-known works and marked this era as one of the most interesting chapters in postwar American art. The Berkeley period included an abstract phase (1953–1956) and a figurative phase (ca. 1955–1967) that included landscapes, figures, interiors, and still lifes.” My husband and I lived in Berkeley for a few years on a commercial street with colorful characters including automotive technicians, political activists, and prostitutes. Our neighbors fought us building an artist studio and ultimately won. As a result, my “Berkeley” period was short lived.
In 1993, Richard Diebenkorn eventually died in Berkeley at the young age of 70. Undoubtedly, he was a major part of the Bay Area Figurative Movement and played a pivotal role in Abstract Expressionism. His Ocean Park paintings displayed at the de Young museum made him an international art star. After viewing them, their presence is undeniable. Imagining how the work was displayed and perceived in the early 1960s must have been different than viewed for the first time for today’s generation.
Overall, the exhibit was very surprising in terms of content. There were more figurative works than abstract. First walking into the exhibit, the viewer is greeted with a few small rooms of amazing and masterfully crafted abstractions. Moving through the aesthetic style changes to an almost Matisse and David Park styled artworks. It’s interesting how artists are “packaged” with a signature style in a historical framework but in reality their body of work is diverse but unified through the use of a similar color palette, compositions, and brush marks.
The above painting image is from the exhibition catalog by Timothy Anglin Burgard, Steven A. Nash, and Emma Acker. Berkeley #26 aesthetically depicts my experience there and that obstacles are actually markers of time building character and strength. Diebenkorn: “I can never accomplish what I want – only what I would have wanted had I thought of it beforehand.”