Artists know that the sketchbook often serves as the place where ideas are formed, experiments are tried, and art is created rapidly, fluidly, and free of self-consciousness. It’s a privilege to look inside the private sketchbook of any artist, much less a great one.
We’re given precisely that opportunity in “Richard Diebenkorn: The Sketchbooks Revealed,” an exhibition on view through August 22 at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, in California. On view are 29 Diebenkorn sketchbooks, created throughout the career of the Bay Area artist. The museum show is accompanied by a thorough digital exhibition that allows viewers anywhere to flip digitally through Diebenkorn’s sketches.
According to the museum:
Throughout his long career, seminal California artist Richard Diebenkorn (Stanford BA ’49) always kept a sketchbook—a “portable studio,” as he called it—to capture his ideas. The books contain 1,045 drawings that span the artist’s career and represent the range of styles and subjects he explored—both gestural renderings of mundane, everyday items and powerful vignettes of intimate family moments. In the pages of these books, we see brief visual meditations upon vistas encountered through travels, carefully built-up studies that would become the large-scale Ocean Park paintings we know so well, and a multitude of renderings of the people who surrounded him over the years, revealing his fascination with the human figure.
After Diebenkorn’s death in 1993, his wife, Phyllis (Stanford BA ’42), kept the sketchbooks stored in a cardboard box for years, uncertain if she would be willing to share such private artistic meditations with the public. In 2014, she decided that the sketchbooks should be seen and studied, and in an extraordinary gesture of generosity and trust, she gifted the entire collection—along with bits and pieces of ephemera tucked inside several books—to the Cantor Arts Center. The exhibition at the Cantor Art Center marks the first-ever public viewing of the sketchbooks. As the care and preservation of these books necessitates that they be displayed in cases, making only a single page or spread visible at a time, the Cantor completed the digitization of all twenty-nine books, making them accessible in the exhibition on touchscreens and here on the museum’s website. With these, one may now leaf through the books digitally and see every sketch in the order conceived, gaining insight into the way Diebenkorn experimented with line, shape, form, and perspective and creatively tackled challenging subjects.
The examples shown here range from line drawings to an intensely shaded figurative sketch a geometric study in watermedia, which together give a sense of the breadth of work found in the Diebenkorn sketchbooks. Click here to view the full sketchbooks, and to stay informed about all the best drawing exhibitions–of sketchbooks and everything else–be sure to subscribe to Drawing magazine. Enjoy!