Diebenkorn in New Mexico

(Note from Grace: Maureen, the editor of The Artist’s Magazine, spent last weekend in NYC and has oodles of art experiences to write about. Keep watching this week for more stories from her!)

Image at right: Untitled/Albuquerque (1952, oil on canvas, 69×60); The Buck Collection, Laguna Beach, California

Last Thursday I was in Manhattan and had a chance to catch “Diebenkorn in New Mexico” at the Grey Gallery at New York University (January 25 through April 5).

Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) was an artist identified with the California landscape as revealed and transformed in his Ocean Park series (1967-1978). Although characterized as an Abstract Expressionist, he worked with the figure (some of his ink drawings of nudes were on display at the Art Show organized by the Art Dealers Association of America at the Armory, February 21 to 25), and felt an intense connection to the landscape, perhaps because he’d worked as a cartographer while serving in the Marines.

“Diebenkorn in New Mexico” presents 50 paintings and works on paper that chronicle two years in the artist’s life, 1950-52, when he enrolled (through the GI bill) at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. To pursue a graduate degree, he gave up a position teaching painting at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute.

The pictures from New Mexico are all interesting and many are gorgeous. The watercolor and gouache studies are especially lush and affecting; the drawings in Sumi ink show a young artist becoming fluent in a lyrical but bold calligraphic line. While the palette of the Ocean Park series is glacial—blue, green, white—the New Mexico pictures evince a less subtle range of colors, as Diebenkorn reacted to the desert terrain. Both the New Mexico and Ocean Park paintings are informed by aerial views; in the case of the New Mexico paintings, these gestures are often brash and sometimes inchoate. Fifteen years later these expressionist marks would be resolved in the transcendently formal Ocean Park where space is divided in what seem to be infinitely rational but rhapsodic progressions.

The Grey Gallery show originated at the Harwood Museum of Art at the University of New Mexico. Accompanying this show is a beautiful catalogue with essays by Gerald Nordland, Mark Lavatelli, Charles Strong and Charles Muir Lovell.

The Green Huntsman (1952, oil on canvas, 43×70); private collection

Richard Diebenkorn and a mural painted for Joan Evans in the Old Town
district of Albuquerque, 1950-52 (paint on plaster wall, approximately
60×120). This mural no longer exists, as it has been painted over.

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