Diebenkorn at OCMA: The exhibit to see this spring
Pacific Standard Time is closing at the end of this month and with Southern California artists on the mind OCMA is continuing the trend with a large exhibition dedicated to Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park Series. The body of work spans over two decades (1967-1988) and is named after Diebenkorn’s studio in the Ocean Park neighborhood of Santa Monica where the abstract expressionist works were created.
The comprehensive OCMA exhibit encompasses eight galleries with approximately 80 works (the largest selection ever on view together) that concentrate on Diebenkorn’s exceptional large-scale paintings but also includes line drawings, charcoal, prints, collages, and personal oil paintings composed on cigar box lids, some of which have never been shown to the public before.
A prominent concept that underlies the exhibit is Diebenkorn’s self-imposed quest for “rightness”. To this end, the artist would work and rework a canvas until he felt that balance of line, form, color, space achieved.
Walking into a gallery with the large-scale works, 8 feet wide and one on each wall, it may not be apparent what the artists sense of rightness is, however it is apparent this rightness was achieved. Diebnkorn’s large canvasses have an immediate calming effect, muted blues, greens, mauves, stone with an unobtrusive swath of red or vivid green. The mood changes, to a laid-back California vibe.
The text copy states the paintings were not intended as landscapes yet the atmosphere of the landscape is unmistakable. The colors clearly invoke a sense of a southern California day ,one gets a sense of boxy pastel stucco housing, sidewalks on a bright day, the ocean on an overcast day, phone lines bisecting the view. In short, I can’t see how they are anything but landscapes.
In contrast to the large canvasses the exhibit includes works Diebenkorn created as gifts for family and friends on cigar-box lids, creating an interesting combination of abstract expressionism, found art and cigar box lettering.
Part grid-like Mondrian, part Rothko color field and a touch of Pollack’s drips and splatters there is a great balance in the works. A film accompanies the exhibit in which Diebenkorn is heard saying the works should not be “too pristine” or “too perfect”. This is evident, and brings up an interesting discussion about the difference between rightness and perfection. Between the rigidity of Mondrian and the chaos of Pollack is the Ocean Park Series permissive tranquil flow. The lines are not perfectly straight and subverted layers of color are visible through the top layers. The works are highly textured showing the reworking and scraping of the canvass, multiple applications of color, and obvious brushstrokes.This effort and lack of perfection is what makes the Ocean Park Series relaxing, personal, and on some level, very southern Californian.
Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series is showing at Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) through May 28th. 850 San Clemente Drive Newport Beach. Hours: Wed- Sun 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Thurs 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.