J David Deal | Discovering Richard Diebenkorn
Richard Diebenkorn
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Discovering Richard Diebenkorn

Discovering Richard Diebenkorn

Above: Ocean Park Series #105 by Richard Diebenkorn, Modern Museum of Fort Worth

So how is it that it took me 33 years to discover the abstract impressionist artist Richard Diebenkorn.

I will discount the first 18 years of my life since, though art was available to me, and I did pursue it, it was at a pedestrian level of understanding. No art history in high school and minimal art classes were available where I attended school.

So surely I must have heard his name referenced at some point during my BFA studies at Louisiana Tech University in rustic Ruston (see what i did there). After all, I took 2 Art History classes! I will accept that I was not the best student at that time but, I did get passing grades…in my art classes. It must have been the professors fault for not mentioning his name and showing me his work and demanding, and I mean demanding, that I pay attention and see his work like I had never seen anything before. Yes! That’s what should have happened. It would have changed the course of my career that very day. Or maybe not, or maybe they did, maybe I wasn’t ready, not open for the experience, not willing to let someone else guide me to a place I had never been.

Then, for the next 29 years of my life, I was on the graphic design side of the art world. Gulping down any visual reference I could get, from designers and fine artists, galleries and museums. I mean, I visited a lot of museums in Dallas, Fort Worth, San Francisco, New York City, Boston, Portland and Rockland, Maine. Some (most) of these museums have Richards work in their collections! How did I miss it? How could I not have seen or even been slightly distracted enough by his work to at least read the description card next to a piece of his work and taken notice of the painter. I don’t know. I don’t get it. I just don’t understand how it could have happened.

So, it’s 2008, I am taking a painting course called “The Practice of Painting” at the Maine College of Art, in Portland, Maine. The teacher, this wonderful teacher named Diane Dahlke, led the class. I was talking with Diane about how I would like to get looser with my painting, still use landscape as my inspiration, but abstract it. So she recommends that I go to the schools library and check out a book about this artist named Richard Diebenkorn. I said “Hmmm… never heard of him.” I know, I know, I probably had. So, I find this coffee table sized book titled Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series. Get settled at a table all to myself. I opened the book. A hush came over the library. The clouds parted to reveal a full solar eclipse. Birds took to wing. Angels on high. Bells tolled through the country side. I had found my touchstone, my unknowing mentor… my Polaris. Totally shaken by this discovery I think to myself, “Hmmm…must be a new painter.” Oh Hell no! He has been painting and exhibiting his work since 1946. That means his work has been available to me for my entire life…my entire life!

Well, that was my first experience (that I know of) with Richard Diebenkorn’s work. This discovery makes me wonder who else have I totally overlooked. Art, music, literature, so much to explore and as I close out my fifties I wonder how much time do I have to discover. My advice to my students? Don’t shut anything out. You’re too young to hate any form of art. Maybe you don’t understand it…that’s okay. Just be open to seeing it and I mean really seeing it. Someday in the future you may find your own Diebenkorn. I may not be around when you do. So I am going to say it now… I told you so!

Now it’s back to the studio to paint and maybe look for a new discovery.

So… who is this Joan Mitchell person?


Some extra tidbits

A great article about a new catalogue of Richards work,

‘He’s Entering the Canon’: Richard Diebenkorn Foundation Will Issue Catalogue Raisonné This Fall With Yale

I have a feeling I may have to save some dollars for that one.

A few books in my collection…

Richard Diebenkorn, The Ocean Park Series

Richard Diebenkorn, The Berkeley Years 1953-1966

Richard Diebenkorn in New Mexico