Richard Diebenkorn: Beginnings, 1942–1955

Pomegranate. 2017. 240p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780764979415. $50. FINE ARTS
Acclaimed in his early 20s, painter Richard Diebenkorn (1922–93) transcended the usual New York bias against Californians with numerous exhibitions on both coasts. He showed flair at the vanguard of the transition toward abstract expressionism in American art, working among a cadre of progenitors of the style. These mentor-collaborators included Clyfford Still, David Park, and Hassell Smith, all many years his senior. Over time, these artists repeatedly crossed the line between abstraction and representation—Diebenkorn perhaps best known for his elegant Ocean Park paintings, which evoke the sun's clarity outside his Santa Monica studio, while toying with that boundary. Spawned by a show at Sacramento's Crocker Museum, this biography focuses on his early years of searching for a mature style while teaching at Berkeley and the California School of Fine Art and engaging with the pacesetters of American painting. Crocker curator Shields deserves praise for giving us much more than an exhibition catalog: not since Gerald Nordland's authoritative profile, published before Diebenkorn's death, has there been such a devoted and definitive biography. While tracking the artist's development, Shields includes loads of interesting detail, such as Diebenkorn's use of house paints owing to cost, the vastness of his canvases, and a falling-out with Still, which makes Still sound like a stuffed shirt.
VERDICT An accomplished bio of an exceptional, revered American master.

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