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Richard Diebenkorn
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Portland, Oregon
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
Berkeley, California
A pioneer of both Abstract Expressionism and the Bay Area Figurative movement, Richard Diebenkorn was one of the most significant and influential American artists in the last half of the 20th century. Over his long and productive career, he created almost 700 oil paintings and perhaps 4,000 unique works on paper. He was also a talented printmaker who created a large body of etchings, drypoints and woodcuts. Much of his work exhibits a strong sense of the place in which it was created, whether during his few years in Albuquerque, the thirteen years in Berkeley or the two decades in Santa Monica, where he produced his famous Ocean Park series. Born in Portland, OR in 1922, Diebenkorn moved with his family to San Francisco in 1924. After graduating from Lowell High School in 1940, he studied at Stanford University for three years. He was called up for active duty with the Marine Corps in 1943, the year he married Phyllis Gilman. After his discharge, he enrolled at the California School of Fine Arts (“CSFA,” now the San Francisco Art Institute, “SFAI”), where the faculty emphasized abstract expressionism. Awarded a fellowship, Diebenkorn worked in Woodstock, NY over the winter of 1946-47 and visited New York City galleries. In the fall of 1947 Diebenkorn began teaching at the CSFA while he worked in his home in Sausalito. The following year he received his first solo exhibition at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor (now part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco), a signal honor for the twenty-six year old artist. Stanford awarded him a bachelor of arts degree in 1949, based on his studies and teaching. The next January he entered the University of New Mexico from which he received a MFA degree in 1951; the Diebenkorns lived in Albuquerque until Phyllis received her bachelor’s degree from UNM in 1952. Diebenkorn taught at the University of Illinois, Urbana during the 1952-53 academic year, and then moved to Berkeley in the fall. He became known as one of the leading abstract expressionist artists on the West Coast. In 1956 the Poindexter Gallery in New York City mounted a solo exhibition of his works; that gallery would represent him until 1971. Diebenkorn’s style began to change, however, and by the end of 1956 he was largely painting in a representational manner. His new style was recounted in a 1957 Art News article by Herschel Chipp, “Diebenkorn Paints a Picture,” describing the painting of Woman by the Ocean (1956, private collection). He resumed teaching, first in the summer of 1961 at the University of California, Los Angeles, and then that fall at the SFAI. He began printmaking in 1962, first at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles and then at Kathan Brown’s new Crown Point Press; he would create prints at Crown Point Press for the rest of his life. In 1963 he became an artist-in-residence at Stanford for a year. He moved to Santa Monica in 1966, having received a professorship in the UCLA art department, where he taught until 1973. He took a studio in Santa Monica’s Ocean Park neighborhood, and within a year he his style evolved again. In 1967 he created the first of the abstract Ocean Park series. That year his was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. A 1968 exhibition of Ocean Park works at the Poindexter Gallery received critical acclaim. Diebenkorn received an honorary doctorate from SFAI in 1975. The next year the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo organized a major retrospective exhibition of his work; the exhibition traveled to New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Cincinnati and Oakland, leading to international recognition. Diebenkorn was one of two artists representing the United States at the 1978 Venice Bienale. In the early 1980s he created a series of works on paper referred to as the Clubs and Spades series, complex drawings and etchings. In 1985 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Diebenkorn and his wife moved from Santa Monica to rural surroundings in Healdsburg, CA, in northern Sonoma County, where he continued to work. He received the National Medal of Arts in 1991. In 1992 the Diebenkorns moved to Berkeley to be closer to his doctors, where he died on March 30, 1993. (TNB 6/2013) Selected bibliography: Bancroft, Sarah C., Susan Landauer and Peter Levitt, with contributions by Anna Brouwer. Richard Diebenkorn: the Ocean Park Series. Exhibition catalog. Newport Beach: Orange County Museum of Art; Munich, London and New York: DelMonico Books/Prestel, 2011. Burgard, Timothy Anglin, Steven A. Nash and Emma Acker. Richard Diebenkorn: the Berkeley Years 1953-1966. Exhibition catalog. San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, in association with the Yale University Press, 2013. Livingston, Jane and Andrea Liguori. Richard Diebenkorn: The Catalogue Raisonné. 4 vols. New Haven: Yale University Press, in association with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2016.