Richard Diebenkorn

As if Sonia Delaunay and John Singer Sargent exhibitions weren’t enough, along comes another treat – the Richard Diebenkorn exhibition at the Royal Academy. I can’t believe I didn’t know about this until just a few days ago, but anyway, I know now, and it’s on till June so I should be able to get to see it at least once. I read in a review that Diebenkorn is not particularly well known on this side of the Atlantic and maybe that’s true, but he’s one of my all-time favourite artists, and I’m thrilled to my marrow at the prospect of seeing his paintings again.Richard Diebenkorn Cityscape

The first time I became properly aware of Diebenkorn was about twenty years ago. I’d had the good fortune to get funding from my university to attend a conference in Hawaii, well in Maui, to be precise. This was a big deal as budgets would not normally stretch that far, and I’m still not quite sure how I talked my way into this megatrip. Spending nine days on Maui was quite an experience, the more so as I knew very well it was not a place I’d ever go at my own expense and so I’m completely sure that I will never go again. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it previously on this blog but I hate and fear flying, so a trip to Maui from Manchester was never going to be an easy ride. It was, essentially, a nightmare. The last straw was when I got on the plane in San Francisco for the final, five-hour, flight to Maui, and found a big bloke sitting in my seat. Turned out we’d both been given the same seat number. He was boorish, and unpleasant, and announced loudly that he had no intention of moving. I was near to tears at this point, but the flight attendant pitched up at just the right moment, took in the scene with one expert glance and told me that she was sure they had a spare seat in first class. And so they did. She whisked me off to first class and gave me a glass of champagne to calm me down. Which it did. I don’t think I’d mind flying nearly so much if I could have champagne and sit in a nice comfortable seat in first class every time….

Anyway, that is not the point of the story. The first leg of the trip back from Maui was the return flight to San Francisco which arrived at 6am. No first class, of course, this time. And then I had a whole day to spare in San Francisco because my flight to London wasn’t until the evening. I was already tired because I hadn’t slept on the flight, but I didn’t much relish the prospect of a day in the airport, so I jumped in a cab and headed for the city. I ate a huge cooked breakfast in a diner, then when it was opening time headed for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. And that was basically it for the day. I didn’t go anywhere else; just stayed there till it was time to go back to the airport. And it was fabulous. When I got really tired, I’d retire to the café and drink some more coffee, and talk to someone. I do like it about Americans that they tend to be so easy to talk to. It’s actually a bit like that in the North of England; people don’t think you’re mad if you strike up a conversation.

But what about the art? Well, I struck lucky because there was an exhibition of Diebenkorn’s paintings. I’d seen examples of his work previously in books, but I couldn’t say I was familiar with it. But seeing the paintings was a quite exceptional experience. I say this, because I remember so well, even after the passage of many years, how those paintings made me feel. They really are special. And it felt appropriate to be seeing them in California where Diebenkorn did so much of his painting. This was one of my best ever days out at an art museum, although it was physically a very gruelling experience. I didn’t want to waste the opportunity so I went round and saw the lot; everything they had on show which included not only the Diebenkorn but also an Alexander Calder exhibition. I had so much time on my hands that I even did some drawings while I was in there. By the time I got back on the plane that evening I was about as tired as I’ve ever been, but it was worth it.

The example I’ve included above is Cityscape #1, which is a semi-abstract piece. It’s an interesting title, because so much of the location is green space. An art teacher I had subsequently pointed out how clever the construction of this painting is. It’s intersected about 1/3 of the way from the top by a quite distinct line, and then the 1/3:2/3 split is also followed in the vertical plane. I often think about this painting when I’m puzzled over composition. It’s made more interesting by the use of shadows, and by the bright elements of almost neon colour – for example, the bright pink and turquoise to the extreme left.

If I do get to this exhibition I’ll no doubt be burbling on about it in some future blog post.

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