Richard Diebenkorn and Habitat for Artists at the Corcoran

I saw the Richard Diebenkorn show at the Corcoran twice this summer, and the paintings are pretty damn good, although honestly I’m not sure how he could stick doggedly with the same theme for twenty years. Back in the day I suppose that was how painters established a following for their work,  but I’m grateful that times have changed. As I walked through the galleries, especially when I encountered the small cigar box top paintings, I remembered how important Diebenkorn’s work had been to me in my early years. Memories of his layered process, color choices, paint handling, and particularly his use of line and perspective, now deeply internalized in my own work, came flooding back. If you take a trip down to DC, make time to watch the terrific film that was produced for an exhibition in the 70s. A time capsule of 70s fashion (those glasses! the hair!), this documentary features terrific interviews and footage of Diebenkorn in the studio, and (added bonus) everyone smokes on camera. Walking through the show, pay extra attention to the work on paper, because this is where most of Deibenkorn’s experimentation took place. 

 Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #16, 1968, oil on canvas, 92 1/2 x 76 inches. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Jane Bradley Pettit. �The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation. Image courtesy the Milwaukee Art Museum, photograph by John R. Glembin.

 Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #54, 1972, oil on canvas, 100 x 81 inches. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, gift of Friends of Gerald Nordland. � The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation. Image courtesy San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, photograph by Richard Grant.

 Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #79, 1975, oil on canvas, 93 x 81 inches. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and with funds contributed by private donors, 1977. �The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation. Image courtesy the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #6, 1968, oil on canvas, 92 x 72 inches. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Arthur J. Levin in memory of his beloved wife Edith 1999.17. �The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation.

But what happened after Diebenkorn’s highly acclaimed Ocean Park series? Acccording to Deibenkorn’s website,  in 1980 and 1981, he began a series called �Clubs and Spades”  that was inspired by “a lifelong interest” in heraldic imagery. Unfortunately, when he showed the drawings at Knoedler, the reaction was lukewarm. The website bio fills in the rest of the blanks about Deibenkorn’s post-Ocean Park life:

In late 1988, and continuing as a traveling exhibition
throughout 1989, Diebenkorn�s works on paper were organized
into a major show and book by the Museum of Modern Art�s
curator John Elderfield. This was a landmark event for the
artist and his public, including, as it did, the entire
range of his stylistic journey right through the late

In the spring of 1988, Richard and Phyllis Diebenkorn moved
from Santa Monica to Healdsburg, California, to a rural
home near the Russian River, overlooking vineyards and
scrub-oak hillsides. In his Healdsburg studio he worked in
mostly small scale, producing some of the most gem-like,
quirkily decorative, and perfectly
executed, works of his life. Though he experienced
serious health problems during much of his time in
Healdsburg, he was able to continue his restless
exploration of form and color and poetic metaphor.
Virtually all of the Healdsburg work was abstract.
However, in one of his last ambitious print series,
done in 1990, he represented variations on the theme
of a coat on a hanger. The late etchings, meant to illustrate
a luxury edition book of poems by W.B. Yeats published
by San Francisco’s Arion Press, constitute a kind of
valedictory gesture.

In late 1992, the Diebenkorns were forced to take up
residence at their Berkeley apartment in order to be nearer
to medical treatment. They looked forward to returning to
Healdsburg, but were never able to do so. Richard
Diebenkorn died there on March 30, 1993. 

Maybe someday we’ll get to see the less well-known late work produced in Healdsburg.

Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series, curated by Sarah C. Bancroft. The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Through September 23, 2012. The exhibition was co-organized by the Orange County Museum of Art and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
Also on view at the Corcoran through August 24: Habitat for Artists
Definitely check out Simon Draper’s Habitat for Artists. The Corcoran is the first museum partner of the Draper’s longterm project, which “uses the idea of the artist�s studio as a catalyst for mutual engagement between artists and communities.”  When I stopped by, artists Dagmar Swenson, Chere Krakovsky, Jessica Poser (pictured above) were in residence. In the 103 degree heat, we sat under their awning, drinking iced tea and yakking art and life. It was hard to tear myself away. Readers may recall that I participated in the inaugural HFA installation
in Beacon, NY, back in 2008. I made a book about the experience, which
is still available here.
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  1. "this documentary features" I'm sorry: what documentary? Was this something showing only at the exhibition? Have long been a fan of his and would appreciate seeing whatever this is.


  2. Ooops. Just now see that it's a film @ the Corcoran in conjunction with the exhibition. Missed that part first. You may delete my comments. Sorry.


  3. Hi Fred,

    The documentary was produced in conjunction with "Paintings and Drawings 1943�1976,"the 1976-77 retrospective organized by Albright-Knox in Buffalo, NY. The show traveled to Cincinnati Art Museum; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Oakland Museum, CA.

  4. I saw the show at OCMA and had very similar feelings (including to the documentary!) The cigar boxes were extraordinary.
    There is a secondary, almost a meta- level to my experience of this exhibit and to Diebenkorn's work: I live in Santa Monica, not far from Ocean Park. You can see and feel it in the work, and when I drive there, I can 'see' Diebenkorn.

  5. I have long admired Diebenkorn's "Ocean Park" series and was delighted that I had the opportunity to see this show while on a business trip. Strange to me that I responded most strongly to the smaller scale pieces and prints.

  6. Sharon, Thank you. I'll simply have to hope I can find it out there somewhere.


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