…meeting/introducing my influences (part one) …

Toward the end of this month Allin and I will be heading out to San Francisco. Of course at this time of year it always makes sense, as a resident of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, to head toward the warm air, blossoms, and sunshine that beautiful city is associated with. However, atmospheric reasons aside, we are also going for another more personal reason: to see Matisse/Diebenkorn, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s newest exhibition.

I think it is safe to say that almost anyone who will be reading this blog will have heard of the famous turn-of-the-century French painter, Henri Matisse. I think it is equally safe to say that the mid-twentieth-century painter, Richard Diebenkorn, is less well known. He is, however, an artist who has exerted an enormous amount of influence over my personal style.

…Richard Diebenkorn…

Richard Diebenkorn was born in 1922 and lived in Portland, Oregon until the age of two when his family relocated to San Francisco. His art career began in the early 1940s, studying first at Stanford, and then, after two years in the Marines, at the California School of Fine Arts. His early works could be best described as an extension of the abstract expressionist movement. These paintings are comprised of bold colors, fluid lines and shapes, and have an iridescent quality and a vibrancy that continued to infuse all of his work.

Richard Diebenkorn Berkeley 46
Richard Diebenkorn, Berkeley #46, 1955

Diebenkorn perhaps made his biggest contribution to the art world with his return to representational art in the mid-1950s. Considered a founding member of the Bay Area Figurative Movement, Diebenkorn spent much of the 1950s and 60s painting and drawing landscapes, figure studies, and still lifes, fusing the qualities of his take on abstract expressionism with the work of Henri Matisse.

Richard Diebenkorn Cityscape 1
Richard Diebenkorn, Cityscape 1, (Landscape No. 1), 1963

In 1966, Diebenkorn moved to Santa Monica, a move that saw his return to pure abstraction as well as the beginning of his most famous group of paintings: the Ocean Park Series. Marked by a geometric division of the canvas, the Ocean Park period still retained the bold juxtaposition of colors that had marked all of his work – perhaps the synthesis of his early abstractions and the geometric landscapes that characterize the San Francisco skyline.

Richard Diebenkorn Ocean Park 79
Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #79, 1975

…Diebenkorn and Matisse…

It was during his formative years that Diebenkorn was first exposed to the work of Henri Matisse. Diebenkorn is said to have gone to great lengths to seek out Matisse’s work in museums, at exhibitions and in private collections. Wherever he happened to be living at the time, Diebenkorn would seek out books on Matisse, buy postcards of his art, or cut it out of magazines. What did Diebenkorn see in Matisse’s work? What attracted him to that particular artist? In Matisse, Diebenkorn was drawn to his use of bright colors, his fluid lines that were often juxtaposed with geometrical shapes or a geometrical composition. He admired his figure studies, his forays into abstraction, and his willingness to change styles with his location. In Matisse, Diebenkorn found a lifetime of influence and inspiration.

The Blue Window and Woman on a Porch Paintings
Left: Henri Matisse, The Blue Window, 1913 Right: Richard Diebenkorn, Woman on a Porch, 1958

…looking inward…

I have found that, Diebenkorn may have exerted the same kind of influence over my own work that Matisse exerted over his, and of course, I am therefore very influenced by Matisse. But I point to Diebenkorn directly, because it is through his “Matisse-filter,” and through his other idiosyncratic techniques, that I can draw a clear connection to my artistic past. While I have perhaps been most heavily influenced by his brushwork, by the rich textures and vibrant colors that result from the many layers of paint that have been applied to his canvases, I have also been deeply influenced by his use of contrasting colors to divide up the canvas (a technique of mine that is equally as indebted to Mark Rothko), and to that end, by his geometrical division of the canvas. I have found in many of my own works a strong compositional connection to his paintings, to the bold shapes outlined by color and separated by texture. I have found that without knowing it, Diebenkorn led me to an atmospheric approach to space, and a desire to capture in that space the luminous and fleeting experiences that pass through our lives.

Ocean Park and Skys the Limit Paintings
Left: Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #68, 1974 Right: Margaret Lockwood, Sky’s the Limit, 1997

So, off we go, to enjoy a warm and sunny atmosphere (or possibly a wet and cloudy one), to capture whatever feelings and experiences our trip may bring, and to capture and hold onto whatever secrets Richard Diebenkorn and Henri Matisse may be willing to share.