14 March – 7 June 2015
Charting the artist's journey from abstraction to figuration, and back to abstraction.
Though not widely known among UK audiences, Richard Diebenkorm is considered one of America’s great post-war artists. His work is represented in almost every major US collection, and even hangs in Obama’s personal quarters in the White House.
This exhibition explores three distinct phases of his career. Starting out as an artist in the 1950s he became recognised for his abstract expressionist style, yet in 1955 he abandoned it in favour of figurative painting. Hugely unpopular at the time, this choice seemed surprising – yet it was typical of Diebenkorm. As the rise of Pop Art made figuration fashionable again in the 1960s, he decided to switch back to abstraction.
It is Diebenkorm's artistic independence that shines through this show at the Royal Academy. Clearly determined to follow his own creative instinct rather than conform to popular trends, he saw each work as a 'search for rightness' – an attempt to solve self-imposed compositional and spatial problems that allow each work to become a perfectly balanced resolution.
In fact, his New York Times obituary epitomised him as 'prone to wearing corduroys and button-down shirts... [with] a professorial, studiously unbohemian manner that was the very antithesis of the cliche of the slick SoHo artist and entrepreneur'.
His largest and perhaps most famous body of work, the non-objective Ocean Park series marks his late return to abstraction.
During these years the artist had moved to Los Angeles where he was surrounded by trees, vineyards and mountains. Diebenkorm said the Californian landscape reminded him of that of Provence, which had inspired one of his favourite artists, Cezanne. And like Cezanne's landscapes, the abstracts in this series are characterised by balance, control and painstaking construction.