Friday 11 February 2011

Richard Diebenkorn

Richard Diebenkorn (1922 – 1993) had a long career as a painter and inevitably his work and style of painting evolved in different ways over his lifetime. For that reason I’m putting up three different posts on him. This first one has a brief look at his work from his whole career, the others are more specific; further down you’ll see mention of both Diebenkorn’s ‘Berkeley’ series, and his ‘Ocean Park’ series, that feature in the next two blogs.

Richard Diebenkorn was born in Portland, Oregon. His family moved to San Francisco, California when he was two years old. He went to Stanford University in 1940. There he concentrated in Studio Art and Art History, studying under Victor Arnautoff and Daniel Mendelowitz. The latter encouraged his interest in American artists such as Arthur Dove, Charles Sheeler and most importantly, Edward Hopper. Hopper's influence can be seen in Diebenkorn's representational work of this time.

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, he lived and worked in various places: New York City, Woodstock, New York, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Urbana, Illinois and Berkeley, California.
In the early 1950s Diebenkorn adopted abstract expressionism as his vehicle for self-expression, influenced at first by Clyfford Still, Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning. He became a leading abstract expressionist on the west coast. In 1950 to 1952, Diebenkorn was enrolled under the G.I. Bill in the University of New Mexico’s graduate fine-arts department where he created his own version of Abstract Expressionism.

He lived in Berkeley, California from 1955 to 1966. By the mid-1950s Diebenkorn had become an important figurative painter, in a style that bridged Henri Matisse with abstract expressionism.
The 'Albuquerque Period' represents the first mature statement of Richard Diebenkorn’s distinctive, and powerful, presence on the American avant-garde art scene.

He lived in Berkeley, California from 1955 to 1966. The paintings and drawings of the 'Berkeley Period' established the artist as an abstract painter of uncommon authority and bravura.
In late 1955, Diebenkorn suddenly launched upon a path that veered dramatically from his extended early abstract period: he began to work in a representational mode, painting and drawing landscapes, figure studies and still lifes.

In 1967 Diebenkorn returned to abstraction, this time in a distinctly personal, geometric style that clearly departed from his early abstract expressionist period. The 'Ocean Park' series, began in 1967 and developed for over twenty-five years, became his most famous work and resulted in more than 140 paintings. Based on the aerial landscape and perhaps the view from the window of his studio, these large-scale abstract compositions are named after a community in Santa Monica, California, where he had his studio.

In 1980 and 1981, Diebenkorn temporarily changed direction, producing a rather eccentric group of works on paper known as the 'Clubs and Spades' drawings. When these were shown at Knoedler gallery, the reaction was somewhat perplexed; with time, however, these images have become some of the most highly prized of his works.

 1949 Untitled

 1950 Untitled (Aberquerque)

 1950 Untitled #13

 1951 Albuquerque #4

 1951 Miller 22

 1951 Untitled (Albuquerque)

 1951 Untitled (Albuquerque) 

 1951 Untitled (Albuquerque)

 1952 The Green Huntsman

 1952 Untitled

 1953 Urbana #7

 1957 Man and Woman in a Large Room

 1957 Woman by Window

 1959 Horizon Ocean View

 1959 Interior with a Book

 1961 Sleeping Woman

 1963 Cityscape 1 (Landscape #1)

Pausing here to note the similarity between Diebenkorn's San Francisco landscape of 1963 (above) and those of Wayne Thiebaud. The one below is Thiebaud's 'Down 18th Street' from 1980.

 1981 Untitled #16

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock (1912 – 1956) began to study painting in 1929 at the Art Students' League, New York, under the Regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton. During the 1930s he worked in the manner of the Regionalists, being influenced also by the Mexican muralist painters (Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros) and by certain aspects of Surrealism.
From 1938 to 1942 he worked for the Federal Art Project. By the mid 1940s he was painting in a completely abstract manner, and the ‘drip and splash’ style for which he is best known emerged with some abruptness in 1947.

In 1956 Pollock said: "My painting does not come from the easel. I prefer to tack the unstretched canvas to the hard wall or the floor. I need the resistance of a hard surface. On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting.

I continue to get further away from the usual painter's tools such as easel, palette, brushes, etc. I prefer sticks, trowels, knives and dripping fluid paint or a heavy impasto with sand, broken glass or other foreign matter added.

When I am in my painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing. It is only after a sort of 'get acquainted' period that I see what I have been about. I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well.”

This manner of Action painting had in common with Surrealist theories of automatism that it was supposed by artists and critics alike to result in a direct expression or revelation of the unconscious moods of the artist. Pollock's name is also associated with the introduction of the All-over style of painting that avoids any points of emphasis or identifiable parts within the whole canvas and therefore abandons the traditional idea of composition in terms of relations among parts. The design of his painting had no relation to the shape or size of the canvas, indeed in the finished work the canvas was sometimes docked or trimmed to suit the image. All these characteristics were important for the new American painting that matured in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

During the 1950s Pollock continued to produce figurative or quasi-figurative black and white works and delicately modulated paintings in rich impasto as well as the paintings in the new all-over style. He was strongly supported by advanced critics, but was also subject to much abuse and sarcasm as the leader of a still little comprehended style; in 1956 Time magazine called him ‘Jack the Dripper’.
By the 1960s, however, he was generally recognized as the most important figure in the most important movement of the century in American painting, but a movement from which artists were already in reaction (Post-Painterly Abstraction).

His unhappy personal life (he was an alcoholic) and his premature death in a car crash in 1956 contributed to his legendary status. In 1944 Pollock married Lee Krasner (1911-84), who was an Abstract Expressionist painter of some distinction, although it was only after her husband's death that she received serious critical recognition.
In December 1956, he was given a memorial retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and a larger more comprehensive exhibition there in 1967. More recently, in 1998 and 1999, his work was honoured with large-scale retrospective exhibitions at MoMA and at Tate Britain in London.

In 2000, Pollock was the subject of an Academy Award winning film, Pollock, directed by and starring Ed Harris.

 1942 Male and Female

 1942 Stenographic Figure

 1942 The Moon-Woman

 1943 Blue (Moby Dick)

 1943 Guardians of the Secret

 1943 Pasiphäe

1943 The Key

 1946 Shimmering Substance

 1947 Cathedral

 1947 Full Fathom Five

 1947 Galaxy

 1948 Number 1A

 Number 1A detail

 1950 Autumn Rhythm

 Autumn rhythm detail

 1950 Lavender Mist

 1952 Blue Poles

 1952 Convergence

 Convergence detail

1953 The Deep

And finally, a painting by Norman Rockwell from 1962 called 'Connoisseur'. I'm not sure whether it is intended as an homage to Pollock or a kick on the shins.