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Richard Diebenkorn at the Royal Academy of Arts

Richard Diebenkorn

UNTIL June 7, 2015, the Royal Academy of Arts is presenting a survey of Richard Diebenkorn’s figurative and abstract works to a UK audience for the first time in almost twenty-five years.

Celebrated as a post-war Master in his native United States, the exhibition serves as an opportunity to discover the importance of Diebenkorn (1922 – 1993) within the canon of American painting.

Richard Diebenkorn is a focused exploration of the artist’s ever-changing, always compelling career across four decades, shifting from the abstract to the figurative in both painting and works on paper.

The exhibition comprises over 50 works with significant loans from public and private collections in the United States and Europe.

Diebenkorn created an exceptional and consistently intriguing body of work. The exhibition reveals the vital role he played in the development of American art, and is arranged to reflect the three distinct periods of his work.

During the early stage of his career in the 1950s, he gained recognition as a leading abstract expressionist yet in 1955 he turned his attention to figurative painting, considered at the time as a surprising and unfashionable shift, although he achieved considerable success working in this genre.

In 1967, having relocated to Southern California from the San Fancisco Bay Area, he returned to abstract paintings and drawings beginning a second long and highly successful period in this style.

The exhibition highlights his staunch artistic independence and shows the ease of movement between styles, which were hallmarks of his career.

The first gallery explores Diebenkorn’s early abstract work, produced for his Museum of Fine Arts exhibition in Albuquerque, New Mexico and during a teaching post that followed in Urbana, Illionois between 1950 and 1952, as well as the earliest abstract works he produced in Berkeley, California.

The second gallery focuses on works made during his return to figurative and landscape studies in Berkeley, California between 1955 and 1966, when he became known as a successful Bay Area Figurative artist.

The last gallery displays his largest and perhaps most famous body of work, the non-objective Ocean Park series created between 1967 and 1988 in Southern California.

Diebenkorn was strongly associated with California and the American West, where he lived and worked for most of his life. The quintessential colourist, his sumptuous palette and compositions reveal an exquisite sensitivity to his environment and geography, capturing a sense of the light and space of the various locations in which he worked.

For Diebenkorn, each work was a search for ‘rightness’, an attempt to solve complex and often self-imposed compositional and spatial problems, so that each work becomes a perfectly balanced resolution.

Despite his deserved recognition in the United States, Diebenkorn’s work has been less widely exhibited in Europe. The only major solo exhibition was at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1991 and he was elected an Honorary Academician in 1992, shortly before his death in 1993, a testament to the level of esteem in which he was held by fellow artists.

Richard Diebenkorn demonstrates the variety and subtlety of the artist’s oeuvre and the ease of his transition from abstraction to figuration and back again, reinvigorating his position as a modern American Master.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with contributions from Sarah C. Bancroft, Edith Devaney and Steven Nash.

Image: Richard Diebenkorn. Girl On a Terrace, 1956. Oil on canvas, 179.07 × 166.05 × 2.54 cm. Collection Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York. Gift of Roy R. Neuberger. Copyright 2014 The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation.

Admission: £11.50 full price (including Gift Aid donation); concessions available; children under 16 and Friends of the RA go free.

Times: Daily from 10am to 6pm (last admission 5.30pm); Fridays until 10pm (last admission 9.30pm).

Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD

Tel: 020 7300 8000