The framing of the light as it appears in the Ocean Park paintings is highly particular to how it appeared in the painter’s studio: the orthogonal armature and stacked geometric forms of Diebenkorn’s composition echoed the tilted panes of his studio’s transom windows, through which the daylight poured. Seemingly constructed of alternating pillars and beams that hold the surface of paint resting atop a discernible exoskeleton, Ocean Park #61 retains a compellingly synthetic character, as if built from inside out. Spatially configured like the schema of a transom window—with a horizontal field surmounting a larger expanse below it—the architecture of Ocean Park #61 corresponds not to the general landscape of the region, but to how it appeared through the specificity of Diebenkorn’s workspace. The angular vectors of color and line in the present work reverberate like the turning and cornering of a ray of light refracted through tilted glass against the studio walls. Diebenkorn’s particular attention to the window as a portal through which interior and exterior are dissolved magnifies the artist’s kinship with Hopper, Cézanne, and Matisse, artists whose work similarly blurred the divisions between the studio and the landscape. Peter Levitt noted the highly personal and subjective perceptual nature of Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park paintings when he wrote, “It would be a mistake, however, to think that this work was merely a surface representation of the outer world in which the painter lived. Rather, the paintings call forth how it actually felt to live bathed in a wash of such color and light, to feel the steady, calm and gradual movement of time reflected in the environment as one lived one’s moments, days, months, and years in a small seaside town whose primary quality was the interaction of this extraordinary light with everything and everyone it fell upon.” (Peter Levitt, ‘Richard Diebenkorn and the Poetics of Place’ in Exh. Cat., Fort Worth, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (and travelling), Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series, 2011, p. 58)
Whilst studying in Stanford University's art department in 1943, Diebenkorn was taken to lunch at the collector Sarah Stein’s home in Palo Alto, where he had a revelatory first look at paintings by Henri Matisse. Matisse’s paintings would remain a touchstone for Diebenkorn throughout his entire oeuvre—both artists notably examined the tension between interior and exterior light within the same pictorial space, segmenting their pictures into planar compartments that at once imply flatness and perspectival depth. Impressed by Matisse’s 1916 painting Studio, Quai St. Michel, Diebenkorn said in 1974, “I noticed its spatial amplitude; one saw a marvelous hollow or room yet the surface is right there… right up front.” (the artist cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Op. Cit., p. 23) Like Diebenkorn, Matisse also often left in the pentimenti resulting from reworking and repositioning his compositions, particularly in the years 1914-1918.
Moreover, Ocean Park #61 and its sister paintings bear an affinity with Paul Cézanne’s revered nineteenth-century landscapes of the environs of Montagne Sainte-Victoire that were the window through which all postwar artists glimpsed the path to Modernism. Cézanne was considered the father of non-objective abstraction despite plying his vocation in the realm of objective art. He described planes of color with non-contoured brushstrokes to form complex landscapes and still lifes, and sought to simplify forms to their geometric essence. Every account of Diebenkorn’s early years stresses the formative impact on the artist of viewing and closely studying Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire in Washington, D.C.’s Phillips Collection during his military service, when he was assigned to a Marine Corps base thirty miles away from the museum, in Quantico, Virginia. It was his encounter with Cézanne’s revolutionary articulation of spatial dynamics and perspectival flatness that catalyzed his Ocean Park paintings—he was even known to carry with him a Cézanne book bearing a reproduction of this painting in his Marine seabag. Of primary importance to Diebenkorn was Cézanne’s pioneering vision of multiplicity, rendering different yet simultaneous perceptions within a seemingly single point of perspective. As explained by Sarah Bancroft, “To describe the works formally, bit by bit, is almost to miss the point, to miss the totality of the self-contained system. To experience them – how they seep out slowly and reveal the artist’s intensive process and capture an emotive quality – is the real goal.” (Sarah Bancroft, ‘A View of Ocean Park,’ in Exh. Cat. Fort Worth, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Op. Cit., p. 22)
Inviting intense contemplation by its immense scale, while evading one fixed viewpoint, Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park #61 cloaks the viewer in its lush, meaty surface; we experience a multitude of different areas of the picture as our eyes explore the variation within the expanse. Diebenkorn destabilized traditional figure-ground relationships, substituting a traditional, cumulative all-at-once-ness for heightened complexity and interplay of forms. Induced into a time-based experience rather than an instantaneous consumption of the whole, we are subject to a slowed down examination of intricate formal relationships. Like a Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko painting, we are simply astonished by the totality and sheer force of Diebenkorn’s work; however, if those artists delighted in the sum of the whole, what stuns in Ocean Park #61 is how each part commands an attention that is entirely unique. The Ocean Park paintings are comprised of a puzzle of parts that are so intimately related to one another that they bear equivalence, yet maintain a precise specificity at each unique point.
The vigorous, sprawling surface of Ocean Park #61 harbors a perpetual balancing act between boisterous motion and calm gentility. Unpredictable and intuitive, yet simultaneously subject to a highly controlled structure, Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park paintings mirror the arrangement of a symphony or musical composition. Possessing a distinctly lyrical quality, the Ocean Park works reflect the influence that music played on Diebenkorn’s practice. Particularly inspired by his profound admiration for Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, Diebenkorn has said, “There’s all sorts of rambunctious music… I don’t know anybody who has done it as strikingly as Beethoven. I would hope sometime to feel that my expression could do that thing… Possibly an example of it is in the Great Fugue, which is very impulsive. But I like to think of it as in more the middle period, where it’s like throwing a ball around, bouncing it off here and there, and things are so unpredictable.” (the artist cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Op. Cit., p. 65) Just as a piece of music is arranged in smaller passages that fluctuate between intimate moments and crescendos, the Ocean Park canvases are vast compositions comprised of smaller incidents—an overall framework belies impulsive staccato instants embedded harmonically within the whole.
Fascinated by the plastic geometric certainty of Piet Mondrian’s modernist compositions, Diebenkorn once affirmed, “More than any other artist [Mondrian] showed me the possibility of non-representational painting.” (the artist cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Ibid., p. 24) Ocean Park #61’s foregrounding of the primary colors red, yellow, and blue framed tightly by black lines evokes Mondrian’s characteristic brand of de Stijl modernism, yet opens up the picture beyond Mondrian’s hyper-cerebral domain toward a deeply personal, emotional resonance. Diebenkorn's thin glazes of color refuse to mask what lies beneath; instead each layer gently modifies the colors that they veil. Multiple layers produce a myriad of hues, each with subtly different chromatic values in tone, saturation, and luminescence. Ocean Park #61 emanates light from within, imparting depth across the tectonic plates of glowing color. Here we witness a phenomenon that is both terrestrial and meteorological, juxtaposing simple corporeality with a heightened, transcendent state of altered contemplation.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale