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Richard Diebenkorn, ”Ocean Park #36,” 1970

A great and stately unfolding occurs in the “Ocean Park” paintings of Richard Diebenkorn, among which can be counted some of the most beautiful works of art created in America, or anywhere else, since the Second World War.

To stand before these austere but drenchingly beautiful canvases is as close as art gets to the feeling of taking refuge on a cold day under a warm shower. The larger paintings, in particular, impose a physical, almost drug-dragged restraint against removing oneself from their ambit.

Between 1967 and 1985, Diebenkorn (1922-1993), who had already earned acclaim first as an abstract painter, then as a figurative one, settled with his wife Phyllis in southern California. In a beachfront community called Ocean Park in Santa Monica, he occupied first a small, windowless room and then, after six or eight months, a larger, light-filled studio that had just been vacated by his friend, the painter Sam Francis.

There, at the age of 45, and without quite knowing what he was doing or why, Diebenkorn threw himself back into abstraction. Over the next two decades he created 145 “Ocean Park” paintings, some as large as 8½ by 6½ feet, others much smaller.


Sebastian Smee
Boston Globe