Scott A. Shields

Art review: Richard Diebenkorn figures it out

In the Portland Art Museum's "Richard Diebenkorn: Beginnings, 1942-1955" we witness the development process of the Bay Area master

Thirty years ago I saw The Drawings of Richard Diebenkorn at the Museum of Modern Art. It was an amazing show of works that seemed effortlessly done, works that left me wondering how he could always, (at least in those drawings) always stop at the perfect point, often with just a few marks on paper. So, I was excited to find that the Portland Art Museum was having a big exhibition of Diebenkorn’s work, Richard Diebenkorn: Beginnings, 1942-1955, paintings and drawings from the first phase of his career. These works show the development of Diebenkorn as an abstract painter. His next phase would be 12 years of figurative painting, and then, for the rest of his career, he returned to abstraction with his iconic Ocean Park series.

Richard Diebenkorn, Untitled, 1945. Watercolor on paper, 15 ¾” x 12″/Courtesy Portland Art Museum

The works in the exhibition illustrate Diebenkorn’s progress from age 20 to 33. But equally important is the exhibition catalog ’s essay by Scott A. Shields. Like Roger Hull’s essay for the Hallie Ford Museum’s Louis Bunce retrospective in 2017, the essay is highly readable and does what good biography does: puts the subject in the context (of the people, institutions and ideas) that shapes them.

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