Richard Diebenkorn is an artist with strong ties to the Bay Area, having attended both Stanford and UC Berkeley and teaching at what is today the San Francisco Art Institute. Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, 1953-1966 exhibition at the de Young museum focuses on the later period of his work, when he resided in Berkeley for 13 years and produced some of his most wide-ranging, complex work.
This period encompasses a huge array of subject matter, from abstract and figurative work to landscapes, interiors and still-life. A leading abstract expressionist on the west coast, his palette is heavily influenced by the surrounding landscape, with large areas of green, panels of yellows and orange reflecting the mellow Californian sunshine. He works largely in square blocks of colour which flatten the picture plane into a series of abstract shapes, his more fluid figurative work is also broken up into these expansive areas of color which are steeped in rich colors of the hills and water of the Bay Area. Even his interiors are engaged with the local landscape, his strong brushstrokes softening the geometric shapes and giving the areas of such extreme light and shade a human touch. Few artists can move from abstraction to figurative to landscape with such ease, and it is Diebenkorn’s strong style that allows such movement.
Figure on a Porch features a lone woman facing an expanse of water. The yellow field in which she stands is indistinguishable as manmade architecture from the green landscape spread out before her. As with the two folding chairs in front and behind her, she is made up of several geometric blocks of color that mimic the blocks of the landscape around her. Rather than becoming subsumed by the strength of the landscape, the figure is instead harmonious with its surroundings. This is the power of Diebenkorn’s work, figures, objects and nature are all a part of the world of colour, building blocks of the nature that we are steeped in.