THE HISTORY OF NOW: THE COLLECTION OF DAVID TEIGER SOLD TO BENEFIT TEIGER FOUNDATION FOR THE SUPPORT OF CONTEMPORARY ART
From the architectonic scaffolding of charcoal lines, three areas come to the fore, anchored by a central axis of warm gray paint; to the left, a large translucent passage of deep azure abuts thin bands of green and beige at the edge, and to the left, a rectangle of gray is bisected into two slightly varied hues. The farmost right strip of burnt umber perfectly complements its opposing band of sea green on the left hand side, creating a symmetrical and balanced frame enclosing the composition. Perpendicular lines and orthogonals of gray and black enclose the geometric passages of color, constructing an overarching system that organizes the abstraction. The sea green band on the left ends in a scalene triangle at the upper left corner of the painting and is perfectly complemented by a smaller orange triangle the exact same shade as the right hand band. The richly underpainted zones of color and meticulously scraped, erased, and reworked areas recall the painterly process of forebears such as Willem de Kooning; pentimenti of earlier decisions suffuse every inch of the surface, disclosing a compelling tension between the improvisational nature of his instinctively revised lines with the disciplined scaffolding of the painting. Like the planes of color laid thinly atop one another in soft washes, colored lines of paint are drawn and redrawn, nearly covered, and then retraced. Diebenkorn adjusted this linear architecture as he constructed the composition, leaving hints as to what might have been, and yet proffering a seemingly indispensible and resolved solution.
The exquisite framing of the light as it appears in Ocean Park #39 is highly specific to how it appeared in the artist’s studio; the slants and diagonals that bisect the geometric forms echoed the tilted panes of his studio’s transom windows, through which daylight poured. Constructed of alternating blocks of color and thin lines that hold the surface of paint atop a discernible exoskeleton, Ocean Park #39 retains a dynamic character, as if built from the inside out. The angular vectors of color and line in the present work reverberate like the bending of a ray of light refracted through a prism or glass window, a fascination that underscores the artist’s kinship with modern masters Henri Matisse and Edward Hopper, who similarly blurred the lines between interior and exterior. Indeed, Matisse’s paintings would remain a significant touchstone for Diebenkorn throughout his entire career, particularly The Blue Window from 1913 and Interior with Goldfish Bowl from 1914, as both artists segmented their pictures into planar compartments that at once insist upon flatness but allude to perspectival depth. In a 1971 review of Diebenkorn’s show at Marlborough Gallery, Harris Rosenstein noted of the present work: “In [Ocean Park #39] the bands panel the color in a way reminiscent of Matisse interiors, but lack any necessary structural role in an abstraction tending toward a pieced-together planar surface; the bands become intrusive separations isolating color sectors and prevent the delicately felt and elaborated contacts between them that characterize the best of the new work. In these, the sectoral color areas press together in a taut plane with lines of mortising color at times seemingly pressed out of the crevices between them. With the colors mutually sensitized by contact, his underpainting becomes capable of broadcast effects and encourages a subtle intelligence in its operations – for example, compelling diagonal scanning of mostly vertically delimited color sectors.” (Harris Rosenstein, “Reviews and Previews: Richard Diebenkorn,” ARTnews, December 1971, p. 14)
The splendid surface of the present work harbors a perpetual balancing act between abstraction and figuration, two opposing styles, neither of which Diebenkorn fully committed to. The Ocean Park paintings represent a remarkable feat of creative reinvention and dexterity; executed over nearly twenty years, the series is indisputably regarded as the signature core of the artist’s oeuvre and represents a singular achievement in the sublime fusion of light and color. Indeed, over 45 of these numbered canvases are held in preeminent museum collections in the United States, as well as in distinguished private collections worldwide. At a time when much of the art world was declaring the “death of painting,” Diebenkorn’s work reaffirmed and reassured the perpetual potential and indeed necessity of the medium. Their maturing brushwork and rich fluctuating zones of color reveal painting as an evolving process. Diebenkorn’s unadultered love of paint is embedded in every sumptuous stroke, announcing within the thrilling drama of his canvas the interminable possibility of painting.
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