Richard Diebenkorn’s artistic oeuvre was greatly influenced by his immediate environment. From 1955 to 1973 Diebenkorn taught at several California arts institutions, including a position at UCLA (1967) while he worked in a studio in the Ocean Park district of Santa Monica. Here, the artist’s commitment to observation of the American Western landscape came to fruition in his non-objective, abstract Ocean Park Series of paintings. Diebenkorn began these works in 1967 and from this point continued to work in this mode. While drawing upon his more representational and figurative works in the presentation of line and bright color, the Ocean Park Series reveals a new direction with a heightened sense of structure and space. Additionally, the works can be visualized as a synthesis of many diverse influences, including Matisse, Cubism and the New York School of Abstract Expressionists. Despite these sources of inspiration, Diebenkorn sought a luminous and spontaneous mode of expression that was wholly his own.
Diebenkorn employs a vertical format on a large scale in the Ocean Park Series. This structuring of form is set in contrast to the artist’s somewhat illogical method of painting. As evidenced in Ocean Park No. 38, Diebenkorn begins by sketching directly onto the surface of the canvas, painting, correcting, and scraping out unconsciously in a continual process of revision and refinement. Through this process the artist creates a multi-layered surface with its opaque passages, corrections and linear experiments that emerge from the surface. This method of alteration and correction that traces earlier activity on the canvas, called pentimenti, activates the surface, leaving no stagnant space.
Ocean Park No. 38 is characterized by broadly brushed surfaces of luminescent and atmospheric color, specifically that of bright yellows. The large color areas allow for invigorated and intensified colors that create an all-over light. Heightening the omnipresent quality of the composition, Diebenkorn activates the corners of the work and unifies the canvas through varied linear elements—both horizontal and diagonal—to ensure the viewer will examine the entire surface. The complexity of this work is thus revealed through brilliant color, linear structure and multiple re-workings and underpainting.
The Ocean Park Series reveals Diebenkorn’s vitality and innovative approach in the last stages of his artistic career. In general, these abstract works elicited great acclaim and are considered to be the most successful series of the artist’s oeuvre.